"YOU'LL SLEEP WITH THE LIGHTS ON AFTER READING GREGG OLSEN." —Allison Brennan
A schoolgirl found it on a nature hike. A severed human foot wearing pink nail polish. A gruesome but invaluable clue that leads forensic pathologist Birdy Waterman down a much darker trail--to a dangerous psychopath whose powers of persuasion seem to have no end. Only by teaming up with sheriff's detective Kendall Stark can Birdy hope to even the odds in a deadly game. It's a fateful decision the killer wants them to make. And it's the only way Birdy and Kendall can find their way to a murderer who's ready to kill again. . .
Praise for Gregg Olsen's novels
"Wickedly clever! Twisted." —Lisa Gardner
"Olsen writes rapid-fire page-turners." —Seattle Times
"Grabs you by the throat." —Kay Hooper
“The fifth Waterman and Stark thriller from the very talented Gregg Olsen . . . it’s truly a great read.” —Mystery Scene Magazine
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Girl in the Woods
By GREGG OLSEN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Gregg Olsen
All rights reserved.
Birdy Waterman went toward the ringing bell and an annoyingly insistent rat-tat-tat knock on the glass storm door of her home in Port Orchard, Washington. Her cell phone was pressed to her ear and her fingertips fumbled in her pocket for her car keys. She retrieved a tube of lip balm—with the lid off and the product making a mess of her pocket.
Great! Where are those keys?
"Hang on," she said into the phone, grabbing a tissue and wiping off her hand. "Everything happens at once. Someone's here. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
She swung the door open. On her doorstep was a soaking wet teenaged boy.
"Make that twenty," she said, pulling the phone away from her ear.
It was her sister's son, Elan.
"Elan, what are you doing here?"
"Can I come in?" he asked.
"Hang on," she said back into the phone.
"Wait, did I get the date wrong?" she asked him.
The kid shook his head.
Birdy looked past Elan to see if he was alone. He was only sixteen. They had made plans for him to come over during spring break. He hadn't been getting along with his parents and Birdy offered to have him stay with her. She'd circled the date on the calendar on her desk at the Kitsap County coroner's office and on the one that hung in the kitchen next to the refrigerator. It couldn't have slipped her mind. She even made plans for activities that the two of them could do—most of which were in Seattle, a place the boy revered because it was the Northwest's largest city. To a teenager from the Makah Reservation, it held a lot of cachet.
"Where's your mom?" Birdy asked, looking past him, still clinging to her cell phone.
The boy, who looked so much like his mother—Birdy's sister, Summer—shook his head. "She's not here. And I don't care where she is."
"How'd you get here?"
"I caught a ride and I walked from the foot ferry. I hitched, but no one would pick me up."
"You shouldn't do that," Birdy said. "Not safe." She motioned him inside. She didn't tell him to take off his shoes, wet and muddy as they were. He was such a sight she nearly forgot that she had the phone in her hand. Elan, gangly, but now not so much, was almost a man. He had medium length dark hair, straight and coarse enough to mimic the tail of a mare. On his chin were the faintest of whiskers. He was trying to grow up.
She turned away from the teen and spoke back into her phone.
"I have an unexpected visitor," Birdy said. She paused and listened. "Everything is fine. I'll see you at the scene as soon as I can get there."
Elan removed his damp dark gray hoody and stood frozen in the small foyer. They looked at each other the way strangers sometimes do. Indeed they nearly were. Elan's mother had all but cut Birdy out of her life over the past few years. There were old reasons for it, and there seemed to be very little to be done about it. The sisters had been close and they'd grown apart. Birdy figured there would be reconciliation someday. Indeed, she hoped that her entertaining Elan for spring break would be the start of something good between her and Summer. Her heart was always heavy when she and her sister stopped speaking.
As the Kitsap County forensic pathologist, Dr. Birdy Waterman had seen what real family discord could do. She was grateful that hers was more of a war of words than weapons.
"You are going to catch a cold," she said. "And I have to leave right this minute."
Elan's hooded eyes sparkled. "If I caught a cold would you split me open and look at my guts?" he asked.
She half smiled at him and feigned exasperation. "If I had to, yes." She'd only seen him a half dozen times in the past three years at her sister's place on the reservation. He was a smart aleck then. And he still was. She liked him.
"I'll be gone awhile. You are going to get out of all of your wet clothes and put them in the dryer."
He looked at her with a blank stare. "What am I supposed to wear?" he asked. "You don't want a naked man running around, do you?"
She ignored his somewhat petulant sarcasm.
Man? That was a stretch.
She noticed Elan's muddy shoes, and the mess they were making of her buffed hardwood floors, but said nothing about that. Instead, she led him to her bedroom.
"Uninvited guests," she said, then pretended to edit herself. "Surprise guests get a surprise." She pulled a lilac terry robe from a wooden peg behind her bedroom door.
"This will have to do," she said, offering the garment.
Elan made an irritated face but accepted the robe. He obviously hated the idea of wearing his aunt's bathrobe—probably any woman's bathrobe. At least it didn't have a row of pink roses around the neckline like his mother's. Besides, no one, he was pretty sure, would see him holed up in his aunt's place.
"Aunt Birdy, are you going to a crime scene?" he asked. "I want to go."
"I am," she said, continuing to push the robe at him until he had no choice but to accept it. "But you're not coming. Stay here and chill. I'll be back soon enough. And when I get back you'll tell me why you're here so early. By the way, does your mom know you're here?"
He kept his eyes on the robe. "No. She doesn't. And I don't want her to."
That wasn't going to happen. The last thing she needed was another reason for her sister to be miffed at her.
"Your dad?" she asked.
Elan looked up and caught his aunt's direct gaze. His dark brown eyes flashed. "I hate him even more."
Birdy rolled her eyes upward. "That's perfect," she said. "We can sort out your drama when I get back."
She put her hand up and cut him off. "Hungry? Frozen pizza is the best I've got. Didn't have time to bake you a cake."
She found her keys from the dish set atop a birdseye maple console by the door and went outside. It had just stopped raining. But in late March in the Pacific Northwest, a cease-fire on precipitation only meant the clouds were taking a coffee break. Jinx, the neighbor's cat, ran over the wet pavement for a scratch under her chin, but Birdy wasn't offering one right then. The cat, a tabby with a stomach that dragged on the lawn, skulked away. Birdy was in a hurry.
She dressed for the weather, which meant layers—dark dyed blue jeans, a sunflower yellow cotton sweater, a North Face black jacket. If it got halfway warm, she'd discard the North Face. That almost always made her too hot. She carried her purse, a raincoat, and a small black bag. Not a doctor's bag, really. But a bag that held a few of the tools of her trade—latex gloves, a flashlight, a voice recorder, evidence tags, a rule, and a camera. She wouldn't necessarily need any of that where she was going, but Dr. Waterman lived by the tried and oh-so-true adage:
Better safe than sorry.
As she unlocked her car, a Seattle-bound ferry plowed the slate waters of Rich Passage on the other side of Beach Drive. A small assemblage of seagulls wrestled over a soggy, and very dead, opossum on the roadside.
Elan had arrived early. Not good.
Birdy pulled out of the driveway and turned on the jazz CD that had been on continuous rotation. The music always calmed her. She was sure that Elan would consider it completely boring and hopelessly uncool, but she probably wouldn't like his music either. She needed a little calming influence just then. Nothing was ever easy in her family. Her nephew had basically run away—at least as far as she could tell. Summer was going to blame her for this, somehow. She always did. As Birdy drove up Mile Hill Road and then the long stretch of Banner Road, she wondered why the best intentions of the past were always a source of hurt in the present.
And yet the worst of it all was not her family, her nephew, or her sister. The worst of it was what the dispatcher from the coroner's office had told her moments just before Elan arrived.
A dismembered human foot had been found in Banner Forest.CHAPTER 2
Tracy Montgomery had smelled the odor first. The twelve-year-old and the other members of Suzanne Hatfield's sixth grade Olalla Elementary School class had made their way through the twists and turns of a trail understandably called Tunnel Vision toward the sodden intersection of Croaking Frog, when she first got a whiff. It was so rank it made her pinch her nose like she did when jumping in the pool at the Y in nearby Gig Harbor.
"Ewww, stinks here," the girl said in a manner that indicated more of an announcement than a mere observation.
Tracy was a know-it-all who wore purple Ugg boots that were destined to be ruined by the muddy late March nature walk in Banner Forest, a Kitsap County park of 630-plus acres. She'd been warned that the boots were not appropriate for the sure-to-be-soggy trek inside the one-square-mile woods that were dank and drippy even on a sunny spring day. There was no doubt that Tracy's mother was going to survey the damage of those annoyingly bright boots and phone a complaint into the principal's office.
"That's why they call it skunk cabbage," said Ms. Hatfield, a veteran teacher who had seen the interest in anything that had to do with nature decline with increasing velocity in the last decade of her thirty-year teaching career. She could hardly wait until retirement, a mere forty-four school days away. Kids today were all but certain that lettuce grew in a cellophane bag and chickens were hatched shaped like nuggets.
Ms. Hatfield brightened a little as a thought came to mind. Her mental calculations hadn't been updated to take into account this day.
Technically, she only had forty-three days left on the job.
A squirrel darted across the shrouded entrance to Croaking Frog, turned left, then right, before zipping up a mostly dead Douglas fir.
"My dad shoots those in our yard," Davy Saunders said. The schoolboy's disclosure didn't surprise anyone. Davy's dad went to jail for confronting an intruder—a driver from the Mattress Ranch store in Gorst—with a loaded weapon. The driver's crime? The young man used the Saunders driveway to make a three-point turn.
"Want to hear something really gross?"
This time the voice belonged to Cameron Lee. He was packed into the middle of the mass of kids and two beleaguered moms clogging the trail. "My cousin sent me a video that showed some old guy cutting up a squirrel and cooking it. You know, like for food."
Ms. Hatfield considered using Cameron's comment as a learning moment about how some people forage for survival, but honestly, she was simply tired of competing with reality TV, the Internet, and the constant prattling of the digital generation. They knew less and less it seemed because they simply didn't have to really know anything.
Everything was always at their fingertips.
Ms. Hatfield knew the Latin name for the skunk cabbage that had so irritated Tracy's olfactory senses—Lysichiton americanus—but she didn't bother mentioning it to her students. Instead, she sighed and spouted off a few mundane facts about the enormous-leafed plant with bright yellow spires protruding from the muddy soil like lanterns in a dark night.
"It smells bad for a reason," she said. "Anyone know why?"
She looked around. Apparently, no one did. She glanced in the direction of Viola Mertz, but even she didn't offer up a reason. The teacher could scarcely recall a moment in the classroom when Viola didn't raise her hand.
If she'd lost Viola, there was no hope.
Ms. Hatfield gamely continued. "It smells bad to attract—"
"Smells like Ryan and he can't attract anyone," Cooper Wilson said, picking on scrawny Ryan Jonas whenever he could.
Ms. Hatfield ignored the remark. Cooper was a thug and she hoped that when puberty tapped Ryan on the shoulders, he'd bulk up and beat the crap out of his tormentor. But that would be later, long after she was gone from the classroom.
"... to attract pollinators," she went on, wondering if she should skip counting days left on the job and switch to hours. "Bugs, bees, flies, whatever."
"I'm bored," Carrie Bowden said.
Ms. Hatfield wanted to say that she was bored too, but of course she didn't. She looked over at one of the two moms who'd come along on the nature hike—Carrie's mom, a willowy brunette named Angie, who had corked ear buds into her ears for the bus ride from the school and hadn't taken them out since. Cooper Wilson's mom, Mariah, must be bored too. She flipped through her phone's email, cursing the bad reception she was getting.
"It might smell bad," Ms. Hatfield said, trying to carry on with her last field trip ever. "But believe it or not this plant actually tastes good to bears. They love it like you love a Subway sandwich."
Only Cooper Wilson brightened a little. He loved Subway.
"Indigenous people ate the plant's roots too," the teacher went on. She flashed back to when she first started teaching and how she'd first used the word Indians, then Native Americans, then, and now, indigenous people.
Lots of changes in three decades.
"Skunk cabbage might smell bad," she said, "but it had very important uses for our Chinook people. They used the leaves to wrap around salmon when roasting it on the hot coals of an alder wood fire."
"I went to a luau in Hawaii and they did that with a pig," Carrie piped up, not so much because she wanted to add to the conversation, but because she liked to remind the others in the class that she'd been to Hawaii over Christmas break. She brought it up at least once a week since her sunburned and lei-wearing return in January. "They wrapped it up in big green leaves before putting it into the ground on some coals," she said. "That's what they did in Hawaii."
"Ms. Hatfield," Tracy said, her voice rising above the din of not-so-nature lovers. "I need to show you something."
Tracy always had something to say. And Ms. Hatfield knew it was always super important. Everything with Tracy was super important.
"Just a minute," the teacher said, a little too sharply. She tried to diffuse her obvious irritation with a quick smile. "Kids, about what Cameron said a moment ago," she continued. "I want you to know that a squirrel is probably a decent source of protein. When game was scarce, many pioneers survived on small rodents and birds."
"Ms. Hatfield! I'm seriously going to puke," Tracy called out. Her voice now had enough urgency to cut through the buzzing and complaining of the two dozen other kids on the field trip.
Tracy knew how to command attention. Her purple Uggs were proof of that.
Ms. Hatfield pushed past the others. Her weathered but delicate hands reached over to Tracy.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
The girl with big brown eyes that set the standard for just how much eye makeup a sixth grader could wear kept her steely gaze focused away from her teacher. She faced the trail, eyes cast downward.
Tracy could be a crier and Ms. Hatfield knew she had to neutralize the situation—whatever it was. And fast.
"Honey, I'm sorry if the squirrel story upset you."
The girl shook her head. "That wasn't it, Ms. Hatfield."
The teacher felt relief wash over her. Good. It wasn't something she said.
"What is it?"
Tracy looked up with wide, frightened, almost Manga eyes.
"Are you sick?" the teacher asked.
Tracy didn't say a word. She looked back down and with the tip of her purple boot lifted the feathery stalk of a sword fern.
At first, Ms. Hatfield wasn't sure what she was seeing. The combination of a stench—far worse than anything emitted by skunk cabbage—and the sight of a wriggling mass of maggots assaulted her senses.
Instinctively, she swept her arm toward Tracy to hold her back, as if the girl was lunging toward the disgusting sight, which she most certainly was not. It was like a mother reaching across a child's chest when she hit the brakes too hard and doubted the ability of the safety belt to protect her precious cargo.
All hell broke loose. Carrie started to scream and her voice was joined by a cacophony. It was a domino that included every kid in the group. Even bully Cooper screamed out in disgust and horror. Angie Bowden yanked out her ear buds as if she was pulling the ripcord on a parachute.
No one had ever seen anything as awful as that.
Later, the kids in Ms. Hatfield's class would tell their friends that it was the best field trip ever.
Excerpted from The Girl in the Woods by GREGG OLSEN. Copyright © 2014 Gregg Olsen. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Wickedly clever! genuinely twisted. --Lisa Gardner
You'll sleep with the lights on after reading Gregg Olsen. --Allison Brennan
Olsen will scare you--and you'll love it. --Lee Child
Grabs you by the throat."--Kay Hooper
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I can't wait for the next book in the series. I couldn't read fast enough, and at the same time didn't want it to end.
I was pretty disappointed with this book. I was looking forward to reading it because I did enjoy Gregg Olsen's "Victim Six." The book's plot is all over the place and the writing is elementary. As an avid reader of crime fiction, I know to expect an interesting plot twist when a books central characters figure everything out early on. That being said, the plot twist in this book felt like an after thought by the author. I do not recommend this book to anyone with an interest in decent crime fiction.
This book was a wild ride in the Northwest. Be prepared to hold to your pants. The end was a shocker.
I got sucked into this awesome book and couldn't put it down. Now I'm bummed cause I have to wait for the next book.
Great read can't wait till the Gregg Olson can't wait for the next book!
as usual mr olsen has another hit! I have read everyone of his books and not once have I been disappointed! can hardly wait for his nex one. PLEASE write faster!
I thoroughly enjoyed this captivating book, and didn't want to put it down! Gregg Olsen knows how to keep a reader's attention and I love the local settings he used for the story. I highly recommend this book!
Enjoyed the twist and turns. Easy reading
Short but good read. liked the characters