The Dead Season

The Dead Season

by Tessa Wegert

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Overview

Senior Investigator Shana Merchant has spent years running from her past. But she never imagined a murder case would drive her to the most dangerous place of all—home. 

After leaving the NYPD following her abduction by serial killer Blake Bram, Shana Merchant hoped for a fresh start in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. Her former tormentor has other plans. Shana and Bram share more than just a hometown, and he won’t let her forget it. When the decades-old skeleton of Shana's estranged uncle is uncovered, Bram issues a challenge: Return home to Vermont and solve the cold case, or the blood he spills next will be on her hands.

As Shana interviews members of her family and the community, mining for secrets that could help her solve her uncle's murder, she begins to realize how little she remembers of her childhood. And when Bram grows impatient and kidnaps again, leaving a trail of clues Shana alone can understand, she knows his new victim will only survive if she wins the psychopath’s twisted game. In order to solve one mystery, Shana must wade into her murky past to unravel another.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Chilling psychological thriller meets gripping police procedural in this relentlessly compelling cat and mouse game of buried secrets and family heartbreak. Tessa Wegert is such a skilled and confident storyteller! I could not put this down."—Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of The First to Lie

Additional Praise for Tessa Wegert and Death in the Family

"Wegert offers an intense read that will grab your attention and not let go, even after the last page is turned."—Christine Carbo, bestselling author of A Sharp Solitude

"Intricate plotting and a razor-sharp narration keep the pages turning in this up-all-night murder mystery. Menacing and atmospheric, Death in the Family will have you on the edge of your seat rooting for Detective Shana Merchant to uncover the truth and triumph over the scars of her own dark past. A tense, riveting read!" —Wendy Walker, USA Today bestselling author of The Night Before

“A deliciously complicated locked-room mystery that would make Agatha Christie proud.  Add a savvy sleuth battling her own demons and the result is an up-to-date and thrilling ride. Death in the Family definitely deserves a place on your must-read list.” –Margaret CoelNew York Timesbestselling author of Winter’s Child

“Tessa Wegert’s Death in the Family assembles delicious ingredients—isolation, a ticking clock, family secrets—and creates a mystery at once familiar and distinctly her own. Bloody good comfort food.”—Andrew Pyper, bestselling author of The Homecoming and The Demonologist
 
"Death In The Family is an ominous, compelling take on the locked-room mystery, teeming with old secrets, twisty motives, and a prickly, damaged detective determined to prove herself. Tessa Wegert expertly ratchets up the tension, turning an idyllic island claustrophobic as the characters’ tangled pasts unravel and the killer closes in. Compulsively readable and utterly satisfying, with an ending that will leave you desperate for Shana's next case."–Erica O’Rourke, author Dissonance and Time of Death as Lucy Kerr

“This locked-room thriller has all of the requisite tangled motives and deductive crime-solving, along with a riveting introduction to edgy survivor Shana and Tim, her steady, easygoing foil.”—Booklist

Kirkus Reviews

2020-09-16
Still recovering from her traumatic debut in Death in the Family (2020), an upstate New York cop has been suspended from duty but not from the need to probe crimes old and new.

Still having nightmares from the time she was kidnapped and caged by psychotic killer Blake Bram 14 months ago, Shana Merchant, senior investigator with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, can’t say no when someone discovers the 20-year-old bones of her uncle Brett Skilton, whose split from his wife, Fee, was evidently more decisive than either of them foresaw. No sooner has Shana driven home to Swanton, Vermont, to comfort the parents who begged for her help and ask decidedly uncomfortable questions of her Aunt Fee and her cousin Crissy, Brett and Fee’s rebellious daughter, than she’s asked to join BCI investigator Tim Wellington in working another case on a more official basis: the abduction of 9-year-old Trey Hayes from the grounds of Boldt Castle. Unlike her inquiries into her unsavory uncle’s death, which are met by fierce push back from both Fee and Crissy, the second investigation seems altogether more straightforward until Shana realizes that the kidnapper is none other than Blake Bram and that he’s taken the boy in order to force Shana to unmask Brett Skilton’s killer for reasons she’s the only person on earth in a position to appreciate. No wonder Shana feels that “Swanton was sucking the life out of me—too much family, too many bad memories”—with more no doubt in the offing.

Professional-grade detection with a no-nonsense heroine who can be stressed out but never counted out.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593097915
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/08/2020
Series: A Shana Merchant Novel , #2
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 145,830
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

ONE

 

Bullshit."

 

"Nope." I turned over the cards on the table between us, and there it was: three aces take the game.

 

McIntyre groaned. "I hate playing with you. You're so damn lucky."

 

"Me and my charmed life," I said, deadpan, as I gathered the cards in a stack and tapped their rounded corners into place. Across the table, McIntyre tried and failed to catch my eye. "This has got to stop, Shay."

 

She was talking about my mood. It had been black lately; she wasn't wrong about that. Four months since my rebirth in the Thousand Islands. Three weeks since it all went to hell. Tim once told me things were simple around here, but that was before the murders and the drowning, before the fiancé I kicked to the curb. If that was what passed for simple in Upstate New York, I didn't want to see things get complicated.

 

I reached behind me, pulled a blanket from the back of my chair onto my lap, and smoothed the fabric over my knees. There was a quilt for every patron on the covered patio at Nelly's Bistro, thoughtfully placed for Clayton's chilly mornings. I was only a little cold, didn't need the throw any more than I needed a third cup of coffee, but the card game was over and I found I couldn't quiet my hands. "I know," I told Mac. "It's not that easy."

 

"Who cares about easy? You're Shana Merchant, the badass who solved the bloodiest case these parts have seen in years."

 

Baptism by fire, as they say-or in my case, water. "Cue the ticker tape parade."

 

"Great idea," she said. "Only instead of ticker tape we'll shred those damned corruption case files from my desk and blanket Church Street in confetti. Bear claw?"

 

I looked askance at the pastry in her hand. "Isn't it taboo to chase breakfast with dessert?"

 

"It's my birthday."

 

"Not yet it's not."

 

Extricating a slice of almond from the frosted dough, she swiped at me, catlike. "Close enough-and when you're fifty, you get to do whatever you want. I'm thinking about chasing this dessert with that hunky Canadian border guard."

 

I laughed, had to, because I knew which guard she was talking about, and he was more scrumptious than any pastry Nelly's could produce. Where would I be without Maureen McIntyre and her uncompromising humor? It still came as a shock to me that we were friends, especially when I thought of her in the context of her work. If someone manufactured Sheriff McIntyre posters for fangirls, I'd have taped one to my bedroom wall-if I had a wall to call my own, that is. Mac was my professional idol, but she was also the person without whom I'd be homeless. Most of my things were in storage, but thanks to the sheriff of Jefferson County I had a La-Z-Boy couch and the best company a person in my situation could hope for.

 

When I moved out of the apartment I'd shared with my ex-fiancé into McIntyre's place in nearby Watertown, she made a point of telling me she wouldn't push it. Talk when you're ready, she'd said, just as she had in July when, brand-new to the job, I'd opted not to tell my closest colleague about my variegated past. She hadn't forced me to share my secret pain with anyone. This was more of the same.

 

The chin-up routine Mac kept rehashing had to do with my ex, and the betrayal I endured by his hand. Despite her intuition, though, Carson Gates was the last thing on my mind. The thin line on my fourth finger, left behind by my engagement ring, was proof I'd once loved him. Soon that would be gone.

 

No, Carson wasn't the reason why-as McIntyre dove into a story about the couple who spent an hour in her office arguing the innocence of the four Watertown officials accused of misconduct-I couldn't stop sizing up every man in the room. That one with the wife and kids is too short, but his gaze cut to me twice after he sat down, and his voice when he ordered sounded tight for a Saturday morning. The guy who just walked in with his girlfriend is the right height and build, but the features are off. My eyes lingered on the stranger's face anyway. With a prosthetic nose and some liquid latex, available online for less than twenty bucks, it would be a convincing disguise.

 

Beyond the covered deck where we sat, wind raced toward us across the river and assailed the clear plastic flaps that enclosed the outdoor seating area. When the man caught me staring and his mouth crimped at the sight of my scar, I couldn't help but go rigid. For half my life I'd looked in the mirror at the skinny white mark that ran from the crook of my mouth all the way to my left ear, yet I often forgot it was there until I saw it reflected in someone else's expression of distaste.

 

I turned my attention back to my plate to find I'd finished off my breakfast without realizing it. Stress-eating session complete, I surveyed the St. Lawrence River. Nelly's shouldn't have been open this late in the season, but unusually high temps had convinced the owner to push on. Our luck was running out. With a cold front on the way, Nelly's was about to trade those patio flaps for plywood boards until next summer. There was no more pretending it was fall. The lusterless sun and biting breeze added up to one conclusion. Winter was on its way.

 

I swallowed the dregs of my coffee in one bitter gulp and said, "I'll miss this place."

 

"Ah." Mac drew the word into a sigh. "I keep forgetting you're still a newbie. You're not used to it yet, but this is how things are around here."

 

"Temporary?"

 

"Cyclical. When the tourists pack up, all that's left is us townies. Not enough folk to support the local economy, including, sadly, places like this. But come late spring, everything will open up again. New season, fresh start. You'll see."

 

I nodded. Spring was months away. Where would I be by then? I honestly didn't know.

 

"Don't look now," Mac said, "but we've got company."

 

Every hair on my freckled forearms lifted, and it took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize Mac was grinning over my shoulder. I turned to see yet another man striding across the restaurant, this one carrying two mugs of coffee from the self-serve counter near the entrance.

 

I hadn't seen much of Tim Wellington in recent weeks, with my suspension and the therapy sessions I was required to complete, plus the fact that I was actively avoiding him. The sight of him trying not to dribble coffee onto the floor made me smile, but the corners of my mouth quickly fell back into place. Tim wasn't alone.

 

"Sheriff." He shook McIntyre's hand. Then, "Long time, Shane."

 

The nickname, a reference to an old western movie, was starting to grow on me. I considered grumbling about it anyway, for old times' sake, but my gaze slid to the woman by his side. I didn't recognize her. She was in her early thirties like Tim and had a small face and perfectly round eyes, not unlike those of a creepy Victorian doll. She accepted one of the coffees from Tim and their hands brushed for an instant before she curled hers around the mug. Eight a.m. on a Saturday morning's a strange time for a date, I thought. Tim was keeping a respectable distance, but his cheeks were pinker than usual, and there was stubble on his jaw. Not a date, then. Just breakfast.

 

Well, well. Good for Tim.

 

As happy as I was to see him, I wasn't happy to see him now. I'd intended to deal with my demons and arrive back at the station the detective I was before Tim, before Carson, and most importantly, before Blake Bram. I didn't want any of my investigators asking me how I was doing, especially not this one. Especially not in front of a doll-faced woman and Mac.

 

"This is Kelsea," Tim said. The woman rattled off a greeting, commented on the unseasonal weather. A local, like Tim. When she was done, Tim turned to me. "Looks like you need a refill. I'll come with."

 

I eyeballed his fresh pour, fragrant and steaming in his hand, and the woman he was about to abandon. "Right," I said, getting to my feet.

 

We left Kelsea with Mac and made our way into the anteroom, where we found the coffee bar unoccupied. Tim, who hadn't thought to leave his overfilled mug behind, cursed under his breath as the hot drink sloshed onto his wrist.

 

"It's good to see you," he said, grabbing a wad of paper napkins as I reached past the thermal carafe of decaf for the good stuff. "That's looking better."

 

He was talking about my hand. The burns I'd sustained during my last case, caused by a pot of boiling water and a troubled teenage girl, were healing well. Before I could make a joke about swearing off cooking for life, Tim said, "How are things?"

 

"Good. Things are good."

 

He raised his thick eyebrows. "Well? When is it?"

 

So this was why he wanted to talk. "What, my fitness-for-duty psych eval? That old thing?" I stirred cream into my coffee, licked the straw. "Next week."

 

"And you feel ready?"

 

"It's not the SATs."

 

"No, I know, I just-you've been slacking off long enough, is all. I could really use a hand back at the station."

 

As the senior investigator for our unit, I head up our team. All the guys answer to me. But the time Tim and I spent on Tern Island investigating the Sinclair family altered the dynamic between us, and with a pang of regret, I realized how much I'd missed our special brand of repartee. "Been busy, have you?" I said. I meant it as a joke-A-Bay in the off-season is as action-packed as a grade school in summer-but Tim's face lit up.

 

"You have no idea. Last Thursday? We had a drug deal go south in a hurry, this divorced couple fighting over who gets to keep the clients. The hubby goes out to sell from their mutual stash and his wife tips me off, failing to realize she's implicating herself in the process."

 

"Dear God."

 

"But wait! There's more. A motorboat got stolen from that RV park on Swan Bay-you know, over by the Price Chopper? Shittiest vessel you've ever seen, and someone felt the need to nab it while the owner was onshore buying groceries. She calls herself Miss Betty, and she calls me daily to ask why I haven't found it yet. Says I'm a disgrace to the legal system."

 

I laughed so hard I had to stabilize my mug. "Did you point out you're not a lawyer?"

 

"Not yet, but I'll be sure to mention it when she calls again on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday. To be honest, I'd rather take calls from Miss Betty than the paper any day. Looks like Cunningham's finally moved on from the Sinclair story. I was starting to feel like I had a stalker."

 

"You and me both." When Tim and I went to Troop D headquarters to report on our last case, the Watertown Daily Times features writer tailed us all the way to Oneida. The resulting article led to more calls, more requests for a comment, which I promptly ignored.

 

"Anyway," Tim said, "I'm glad you're here."

 

"Mac insisted we squeeze in one last breakfast burrito before this place closes for the winter."

 

"Here in the county, I mean."

 

The atmosphere around us fizzled. "Where else would I go?" I said it lightly, but Tim's expression was somber.

 

"You know where. I've been thinking about our talk. That day in Oneida."

 

I remembered it well. While we'd managed to close the Sinclair case, it hadn't been the cleanest of solves. I knowingly barreled onto the scene a liability, and did some serious damage. Our witnesses could easily have built a police misconduct case against me; it was a wonder they hadn't. The fact that I'd worked the case on Tern Island while still wrestling with PTSD was irresponsible on every level. Over the last few weeks, the magnitude of what I'd done had settled on me like barbed wire biting into flesh. Little wonder the big guns wanted to know how it all fell apart, and how my conduct turned a missing persons case into an unholy mess.

 

Behind us, a boisterous group of teenagers walked in and descended on the coffee bar. Tim cupped my elbow with his hand and guided me to a cluster of empty tables at the back of the room.

 

"You've had some time on your hands these past weeks."

 

"Should I have knit you a hat?"

 

By the look on Tim's face, the time for jokes was done. "So you're not looking for him?"

 

Him. No need to specify who Tim was talking about. "Bram's gone," I said.

 

"Maybe." Tim's tone was hard to read, and I sensed a trap. "After he got away in New York, Blake Bram had every reason to leave the state. He could have changed his name. He's done it before. Or maybe he went home. Back to Swanton."

 

"I don't think so."

 

"You don't think so because that behavior doesn't fit? Or you don't think so because you know otherwise?"

 

Nearby, the teenagers cackled as they filled their mugs. Under his jacket and heavy crewneck sweater, I could see Tim's shoulders were tense. "Bram could be gone," he said, "or he could be here. I should have brought the wrath of God down on Cunningham for printing your picture in that story. How did they even know we'd be in Oneida?"

 

"No idea," I said with a pang of guilt. "The man's thorough, I'll give him that. Look, I don't know where Bram is, or where he's been since I left New York. There haven't been any more murders that match his MO. That doesn't mean he's done."

 

"But you are, right? With him? Because you still haven't actually answered my question."

 

The teens split into groups and took two tables, one on either side of where Tim and I stood.

 

"You should get going," I said. "I don't want to keep you from your friend."

 

I'd always thought of Tim's eyes as gray, but in the November sunlight that leaked through the restaurant's front windows, they presented as starbursts of blue and white. He blinked at me, nodded, and advanced on the patio door.

 

As I fell into step behind him, I overheard one of the waitresses talking to the group of teens. "Last bear claws for a while," she said. "Better eat your fill while you have the chance."

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