"No survivors," Sonora Blair said to herself when she and her partner, Sam, arrived at the crime scene. A typical American family lived here. In the driveway, a car is left behind in a hurry, its door open, its battery nearly dead. Before she followed Sam inside, Sonora knew what was waiting. She just didn't know how bad it would look, how bizarre the evidence would be, and how powerfully a dying woman's last words would echo in her mind: "The Angel."
Within hours Sonora had gotten over the shock. She'd gone home, checked on her kids, and washed the blood off her nice white blouse. Before long she'd be setting off to find a killer--or maybe two. That's when the case takes a sudden, strange turn. A retired cop, legendary to those who worked with him, practically hands Sonora the suspects on a plate: their names, histories, even where they can be found. But among her fellow cops Sonora alone believes there is something more to this case. A third man. Or an angel...
In The Debt Collector, Lynn Hightower chillingly captures the collision of a horrific crime with the ordinary lives of its victims. But another life is at stake here. The life of a woman who can't mother her children the way she wishes she could, who misses people she once loved, and who even longs quietly for another chance at romance. And while one family has been wiped out by savage killers, the life of this good cop is at risk now. Because as Sonora moves further and further down a trail full of shocking surprises, bitter revelations, and unpaid debts, she now knows one thing for sure: how close she is getting to the edge.
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When it was all over, or as over as such a thing can be, Sonora could look back and pinpoint the precise moment when everything went wrong. There were times that she wanted to blame the case, times she thought that if she and Sam had not been on call that summer-soft night in March, things would be different, things would not have gotten so out of hand.
And other times she thought, no, she had handled other cases, some as bad, if not worse. The problem, maybe, was her. Maybe she was vulnerable then. Or maybe it wasn't her, who the hell knew, because life, when you come right down to it, life is a journey. You put one foot in front of the other and you choose a path, and stuff happens, good, bad, there aren't any guarantees. It's just a journey. A trip you've got to take.
Starting, as it often does in police work, with the ring of the phone.
She had dreamed the night before, a premonition, maybe, of something evil and old as original sin. But when the phone rang, Sonora, deep in a book, had forgotten the dream. She was tucked up on the couch reading The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer, the smell of pork roast baking in a mustard-barbecue sauce warming the kitchen. She had cooked. A miraculous event. Clampett, the three-legged dog, lay in front of the stove, guarding the roast, all one hundred and six blond pounds of him.
The roast was safe.
Heather, fifth grade, and Tim, newly seventeen, were watching television, reruns of Home Improvement. The Simpsons up next.
No doubt they had homework. Sonora had looked up from her book twenty minutes ago at Tim, propped on couch pillows that trailed clumps of foam like popcorn, and Heather, legs dangling over a beanbag chair they'd bought at a garage sale for her birthday, and had chosen peace and quiet over proper parenting.
It was a good decision. A moment that came and went like such moments do, you could no more keep it than you could hold water in your hand.
She put the book down, not wanting to let go of the story, thinking it was past time to put together a salad. She got up to turn the rice down and saw that Tim was handing her the portable.
"For you," he said.
She was not sure who was more surprised. She leaned up against the countertop, nudged Clampett with a toe. He gave her a doggie smile. Drool had puddled on the floor. A tribute to her cooking.
"Blair," she said.
"Sam. Darlin'. Haven't seen you for a whole two hours."
"You want me to pick you up in the company car, or you going to meet me there?"
Something in his voice. "Where is there, Sam?"
"You'll never find it. Let me come get you."
"What we got?"
His tone went flat. "Home invasion."
Sonora put the phone down. Looked at the kids, who watched her. Seasoned cop kids. They knew something was up.
"Going to work?" Tim asked. She had only a sliver of his attention. Knew he would be on the phone the minute she walked out the door.
"Yeah," she said. "Eat without me, and be sure to leave the kitchen clean. You hear me, Tim?"
"Can I paint my toenails?" Heather asked.
"In the bathroom, not in here." Not that it mattered, except on principle. Sonora glanced at the couch. Dusty rose, cushions stained with ink, coated in dog hair.
She got her purse. Turned off the TV. The children gave her looks drenched with annoyance.
"Go ahead and have your supper. Make a little plate of roast for Clampett. Heather, you take care of that." She knew Tim would forget. "And keep the doors locked. Did you hear me?"
Tim nodded. "Eat and lock up. You load your gun, Mom?"
"Sam's picking me up, I'll do it in the car."
"Turn the TV back on," he said.
"Turn it on yourself." She grabbed her all-purpose black blazer and the tie she had draped over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, retied her left Reebok, and she was out the door, standing in the twilight, waiting for Sam.
Home invasion. It was the kind of call Sonora dreaded, the kind of call no homicide cop, no matter how experienced or jaded, could approach without a flutter of dread; unhappy butterflies low in the belly.
She stood to one side of the porch, just at the edge of her garage. One of her neighbors pulled into the driveway across the street, raised a cautious hand. In a community of young families, all couples with small children, a widowed homicide cop with teenagers was an object of dread and fascination. She could not blame them. Teenage boys with loud bass throbbing from car speakers used to make her nervous, before she got one of her very own.
Sam hadn't given her the address of the call, but it would be a house just like that one across the street, just like the one next door.
Some cops made fun of John Q. Public for his naivete, scorned parents who did not see a pedophile on every corner (fewer and fewer every day), people who could not fully comprehend the concept of two-legged evil. Sonora knew this copper's disdain was nothing less than envy.
She never told anyone, not even Sam, how routinely she hit that book of mug shots, known child molesters who stalked the streets of Cincinnati. There were times of great private embarrassment when she saw a familiar face, say, in Dairy Mart, or taking the kids to Graeters. And she'd be unable to remember if the familiarity of that face came from a chance meeting at a PTA Open Parent Night or a mug shot of a guy in and out of jail for raping eight-year-olds.
She glanced over her shoulder at her own house, curtains still open in the living-room window, Heather curled up on the couch, Tim pacing the hallway, talking on the phone. It seemed so bright inside, cozy, as sunlight drained away and motes of darkness grew thick in the air.
She felt off, somehow. Maybe it was just the sense she had, looking into that living-room window, that her babies were growing up and away, that dawning knowledge you gain as you get older that life cannot be static, that everything changes just as you manage to take hold, and you have to let go, whether you want to or not.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was so good. She really gave her characters a personality that seemed so real. The good characters you just couldn't help but love, and the bad characters you wanted them caught just as bad as the detectives. It took me only one day to read this book. What you thought was going to happen would turn out different, and the plot is always exciting. The end is suprising yet, perfect. This should be your next book!
I have read all of Lynn Hightowers books, and I must say that I have never enjoyed a story so much in my life!She has a wonderfull way with words.Entertaining from the get go! I never seem to have the time to stop and read but with her 'I MAKE TIME!'
She has been a homicide detective for many years working many ugly cases yet she remains steady on her job due to her inner strength and abilities. Sonora Blair is also a single mother raising a teenage son and an adolescent daughter. Though she would do anything for them, she knows something is missing in her life that leads her to the edge of the abyss like none of her cases has ever done. She cannot eat or sleep and has no social life since her last relationship ended seven months ago. Ironically, her latest investigation wakes Sonora up to what is going on in her psyche. She and Sam (her partner) are investigating the butchery of a family in their home. The prevailing opinion among her peers is that two killers committed the brutal crimes. Sonora believes a third person was also there. That individual rescued the only survivor, a baby. As she and Sam make inquiries, Sonora meets a legendary retired cop, who sends her down a path that seems to wrap up the case. However, Sonora still has professional (and personal) doubts that the case is solved. THE DEBT COLLECTOR is a dark, disturbing, yet mesmerizing police procedural novel that illustrates the toll police work has on an officer¿s soul. Readers who prefer happy endings need to look elsewhere as this story line sticks to the blues till the end of the novel and beyond (an aftertaste lingers). The audience who relishes a gut wrenching reality check in their plots will owe a debt of gratitude to talented Shamus Award winner Lynn Hightower. Harriet Klausner