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"An exhilarating thrill ride that keeps you turning pages.. Ryan deftly delivers a denouement as shocking as it is satisfying." —Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish and The Last Time I Saw You
Law student Rachel North will tell you, without hesitation, what she knows to be true. She's smart, she’s a hard worker, she does the right thing, she’s successfully married to a faithful and devoted husband, a lion of Boston's defense bar, and her internship with the Boston DA's office is her ticket to a successful future.
Problem is—she’s wrong.
And in this cat and mouse game--the battle for justice becomes a battle for survival.
The Murder List is a new standalone suspense novel in the tradition of Lisa Scottoline and B. A. Paris from award-winning author and reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN has won five Agatha Awards, in addition to the Anthony, Macavity, Daphne du Maurier, and Mary Higgins Clark Award for her bestselling mystery novels. As an investigative reporter, her work has resulted in new laws, criminals sent to prison, homes saved from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution for victims and consumers. Along with her 34 Emmys and14 Edward R. Murrow awards, Hank has received dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A former president of Sisters in Crime and founder of MWA University, she lives in Boston with her husband, a nationally renowned civil rights and criminal defense attorney. She is the author of Trust Me, and the Jane Ryland series (The Other Woman, The Wrong Girl, Truth be Told, Say No More and What You See).
Read an Excerpt
We never fight. Not in the past six years, as long as we've been married. Not even in the months before that. It isn't that Jack is always right or I'm always right. Usually our disagreements are about things that don't matter, so it's easier and quicker for me to acquiesce. Jack's a lawyer, so he likes to win. It makes him happy. And that's good.
But now on a Saturday morning in May, sitting face-to-face across our breakfast table in sweats and ratty slippers, we're definitely on the verge of a real fight. This time, the fight matters. This time I have to win.
"I forbid it," Jack says.
I burst out laughing — all I can think to do — because "forbid" is such an odd word.
"Forbid?" I say the word, repeating it, diluting it, undermining it. "What're you gonna do, honey, lock me in the castle tower? You're not that much older than I am. Come on, sweetheart. Get real. Have some more coffee. Read your Globe."
He doesn't look up from the Metro section. "It's absurd, Rachel," he says into the paper. "That woman is evil. Plus, I can't understand why you'd want to fill your brain with that kind of ..." He shakes his head as he snaps a page into place, the newsprint crackling with his impatience. "Absurd. An exceedingly unwise decision on Gardiner's part. And yours, too, Rach."
I take a sip of dark roast to defuse my annoyance and to clear the looming emotional thunderstorm. I know his problem isn't my summer internship in the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office. Jack's impatience with me is fueled by the headlines he's reading, news stories that feature his name. Jack hates to lose. Especially in court. And especially to Assistant District Attorney Martha Gardiner. My new boss.
Martha Gardiner. The woman Jack usually refers to as "Satan in pearls." He never laughs when he says it.
"Honey?" I soften my voice, knowing there are many ways to win. Law school is teaching me that. "It's only for three months. I'm required to do it. All the 2L students are, or we can't be 3Ls. And then we can't graduate. And there goes all that law-school tuition you've loaned me. Plus, we've planned the whole thing. We're gonna be partners. You'll get me on the murder list. And we're a team. Your very own word. Remember?"
"Team? Certainly doesn't feel like it. I thought you chose a side." He lowers the paper, one inch, looks at me with narrowed eyes. "And not that side. Not hers."
"But —" How do I handle this? He pays the bills, at this point at least. As a student — at thirty-six, the world's oldest law student — I have zero income. You're my investment, he told me. I took it as a compliment. "But —"
"There are no 'buts.' Gardiner's a predator. She maligns the law. Twists it. Corrupts it. Her every instinct is to destroy and defeat." The newspaper barrier goes back up.
I can't escalate this, so I'll ignore the fact that prosecutors are supposed to be the champions of law and order. Jack's oversensitive because Gardiner's the one prosecutor who can beat him. My dear husband is not the most reliable narrator, though, and he's probably exaggerating when he spins me stories about her disturbingly unfair and manipulative tactics. But Martha Leggett Gardiner is a touchy subject.
Jack's frown, hidden by newsprint again, chilled me. I've seen that same expression in the courtroom, and it's never a good sign for the witness he's about to interrogate. But I'm not his witness. I'm his wife.
"I know you're upset." I decide on instant capitulation and a subject pivot. "But even you have to lose a case once in a while. Especially since your client, you know, did it."
"That shouldn't matter. Or are your profs holding back that tidbit until your third year?" Jack flaps the newspaper to a new page. Hiding the DORN DID IT headline I know is there. "That jury of morons wanted someone to be punished. And Gardiner had the judge in her pocket."
"I know. It stinks. I know. It does." This morning hadn't been the optimum time to spring the Gardiner situation on him, but it's the only time. Harvard had emailed the final 2L internship assignments to us late last night, and our jobs start this coming Wednesday. I could hardly hide reality, and, besides, I'm excited. Nervous but excited. Still, life's a juggle when your husband is cranky.
Jack's old plaid Saturday shirt is buttoned wrong, his hair like windblown straw. He's bitter over every courtroom loss, so we've ridden out a few iterations of this before. The second newspaper headline reads JURY TO JACK KIRKLAND: DROP DEAD. I'd almost hidden the paper from him, a gesture in affectionate futility.
"But it was a murder-list case," I say. Maybe I can provide some comfort, or some logic. "Marcus Dorn was lucky to have the state appoint you as his attorney. You can't help it if your key witness decided to vanish. Plan the appeal, honey, you'll win. You're the best defense lawyer in Boston. Or anywhere."
"Appeals take years." Jack stands, tosses the paper to the floor, paces to the window. Our tiny garden's perennials are flourishing in this spring's incessant rain, but I figure he's not thinking about peonies or pink thyme. He's replaying that verdict. He truly cares about justice, defending his clients, even the ones he knows are guilty. It's one of the reasons I married him. And he almost always wins. Another reason.
"Martha Gardiner's doing this to screw with me," Jack says, turning back to me. "Like she tries to every damn day in court. She's using you, Rachel. Are you too naïve to see that? This is about me. Can you possibly have some misguided notion that this is about you?"
I take a deep breath. "I'll only be working with her for the summer. And then I'll be back with you. Against her. She can't win against both of us."
Okay, then. In the silent tension, I'll tell him my plan. The truth. "Honey? I'm doing this for us. It's the perfect strategy. I'll work with her. I'll learn her methods and techniques. It's like opposition research, scoping out the competition from the inside. The more I understand her prosecution, the more I can structure our defense. See? It's brilliant."
No answer. It's risky, I know that. Such is life.
I sip my coffee, pretend to read the Times on my iPad, and let him sulk. Secretly, I feel fine that Marcus Simmons Dorn is behind bars forever. He'd been charged with the gruesome murder of a perfectly lovely couple after breaking into their high-priced — and supposedly high-security — suburban condominium called The Westmoreland. He stole their jewelry and a manila envelope of cash, then slit their throats. Turned out, Dorn himself was the security guard. So much for security.
And Jack, swearing me to marital secrecy, had shown me the graphic crime-scene photos, Manson-esque scrawls in the victims' own blood, which he'd managed to keep away from the jury. Jack had been proud he'd convinced the judge to suppress them. I love how he values the rule of law. Even when he knows his successful defense might result in a murderer walking free.
In the Dorn case, though, suppressing those photos was Jack's only victory. The jury voted guilty. But Jack doesn't lose often. I'm relying on that.
Especially since I'll eventually become my husband's law partner. I won't be on the state's special murder list, like Jack is, since I'll be a novice for a while, and not experienced enough for the state to appoint me to represent accused murderers who can't pay for their defense. But he's promised me we'll be Kirkland and North. Once I pass the bar exam.
I close my eyes briefly, almost swooning with the need for that to come true. Jack and I will be protecting our clients' rights. Together. As for Jack's one-sided philosophy, I truly love him for it, but hey, it's law school. I'm training to understand two sides. Defense and prosecution. The devil you know.
"So you're insisting on this travesty? Signing on with the devil woman?" Jack, as if reading my mind, comes back to the table, retrieves the paper, places it beside his coffee mug. Lays his left hand flat on top of it. His wedding-ring hand. "Even if it might end our marriage?"
My eyes well with tears at his tone. At his suggestion. At that possibility. At that disaster.
"What?" I hear my voice tremble as I try to read his face.
"Kidding, sweetheart," Jack says. He kisses me on the top of my head. "Only kidding."CHAPTER 2
You walk through the door, or you don't. Those are the only choices.
I put my hand on the brass knob of the wood-framed entrance to the Middlesex County First Assistant District Attorney's Office. Small gilt letters on the smoky, wire-reinforced glass announce that this is where Martha Gardiner holds the key to my future. If I open it and walk into her waiting room, I won't be the same person when I come out. If I turn around and walk away, I won't be the same person, either. No matter what happens, I'll be different. I suppose that's what I want.
We all have our reasons.
Jack left before I did this morning. I heard the crunch of gravel as his vintage Audi pulled out of the driveway, and I ran downstairs, barefoot, perplexed and annoyed. And frankly, hurt. His "might end our marriage" crack had been unnecessary, and I knew he regretted it. But Jack's not big on apologies.
We'd skirted the Gardiner topic since Saturday, Jack "working" and me "studying." We'd talked about the Red Sox game, whether Tito's vodka was worth the price, whether the lawn-mowing guy would come as promised, where to plant the geraniums. Shallow and infinitely polite, tacitly understanding that pursuing our disagreement would only lead to more disagreement. Even last night, the eve of my first day on the job, I'd avoided the topic. I couldn't risk making Jack unhappy.
How long does it take to ruin everything? One moment. One wrong decision. One mistake. One unfortunate assumption or ill-chosen word or even a misunderstood gift. The dominoes fall, never to be righted.
Still, when I'd arrived in the kitchen, wrapped in my white towel and damp from my shower, I found the note Jack left me on one of his yellow legal pads, saying "early meeting" and "good luck." I convinced myself it was his attempt to apologize. Jack's set in his ways. I've learned how to deal with them.
Now the gilt-lettered office door opens, as if on its own. A harried-looking man, glasses askew on his nose and clipboard in hand, more Jack's age than mine, looks me up and down. I pull my hand away from the doorknob and take a step backward into the fluorescent-lighted entryway. As if I've just arrived. As if I hadn't been hesitating.
"Rachel North? You're Rachel North. Correct?"
Behind him there's a beige couch, empty, two beige stuffed chairs, empty, and a file-strewn wooden desk.
I'd succumbed to the jitters of first-day-itis, so I know my black heels are unscuffed and my new black suit jacket is buttoned properly. New shorter haircut with new even-blonder highlights, ends tucked behind understated gold earrings. The cordovan leather of my not-new briefcase, a welcome-to-the-law present from Jack, is burnished enough to prove I use it. But this man's scrutiny makes me second-guess myself. Not auspicious if I'm to be a convincing prosecutor in training.
"Correct." I try to make my voice confident. "Are you —?"
"This way," he says, cutting me off, pointing his clipboard behind him. "I'm Leon Colacetti, Ms. Gardiner's assistant. The others are already inside."
I'm not late, I'm certain I'm not, so I suspect this is Leon trying to show me who's boss. Typical man. Plus, who "the others" will turn out to be is a more intriguing concern. We aren't provided advance intel on the list of our fellow interns, so I only know we're all law students and our stated goal is to spend the next three months trying to impress the hell out of the DA. It'll soon be clear who my competition is.
This whole role reversal is pure irony. Back in my statehouse days, a "career" that ended six years ago, I supervised ambitious interns of my own. Now I'm the newbie. At thirty-six, the newbie.
Three twenty-something faces look up at me as Leon — I decide that's what I'll call him — ushers me into a windowless conference room, a faux-mahogany paneled box with an oval table so oversize there's barely enough room for the high-back black swivel chairs around it. The whiteboard on the wall is blank. Three of the eight swivel chairs are occupied.
"She's here," Leon says, announcing me. The door closes behind him.
There's a moment, on the first day of school or a new job or new adventure, when you're presented with the cast of characters in whatever challenge you're about to face. There are no rule books. No biographies, no histories, no names or vices or motives. Are these three my teammates? Or adversaries?
I'm the only one standing. The three are all men — each with a legal pad on the table in front of him, each with a paper cup of what looks like coffee, each in a dark suit that mirrors mine. Two have fresh-looking preppy haircuts, and one must have graduated West Point or someplace. In unison, they wave me to the unoccupied chair at the end of the table. As if they'd agreed on my seat assignment.
"Elijah Lansberry," says the charcoal pinstripes. "Eli's fine. Howard undergrad, BU Law. My mother's in the Suffolk County DA's office."
"Nick Soderberg." The blond guy has a stud earring in place, and I see holes where several others must go. "BC undergrad, BC Law. Computer geek, right? I-T."
I try not to make snap judgments about those two, judgments as Darwinian and inevitable as friend or not-friend. Smart or not smart. Hiding something or not. Ulterior motive or not. They must be doing the same for me, thinking: Woman. She's older, she's married, she's the one who — but no. I'm as much a cipher to them as they are to me. Good.
"Welcome to boot camp." The third man stands, salutes. "Andrew DiPrado. Semper fi."
"Ignore him." Eli waves him off. "Listen, Martha Gardiner herself is apparently on the way. With our assignments. DiPrado's worried he'll have to go to the murder scene and see the dead body."
"Like you'd be up for that, Lansberry," DiPrado says.
"Big time," he insists. "Isn't that what we're here for? I know I am."
"Rachel North." I decide to avoid the territory-marking and the offering of bona fides. Also to be circumspect about adding my particular law-school details. Some people, mainly envious law students, hate Harvard. Besides, once these guys hear about Jack, they'll assume he's connected with the law school's Kirkland House, and that'll be that. I'll be branded the favored legacy. The advantaged insider. The manipulative opportunist.
I take my seat, pull out a yellow pad, stash my briefcase under the table. What the others don't know is — they may have their histories, but I have experience with power. With office politics. And, yeah. I have Jack. "Dead body? Did someone get killed?"
"Didn't you hear the news this morning?" Eli's eyes narrow behind his tortoiseshell glasses. He's almost sneering. "The Auburndale nurse?"
That's such a lawyer thing. Why not answer me? Why make everything a quiz or a cross-examination? Men. What would Jack do?
I act like I already know. "Oh, right," I say.
The doorknob clicks. As one, the four of us turn to see who's arriving. And then, as one, we jolt to our feet, our wheeled chairs padding against the walls.
Martha Gardiner stands framed in the open doorway. Doesn't even cross the threshold. Two blue-uniformed state cops lurk, men at the ready, behind her. The ADA hasn't changed from when I last saw her in her other job, six-ish years ago now, still a study in icy patrician neutral. Silver hair, pale blue eyes, white silk blouse. Dark taupe suit, precisely tailored. Discreet espresso-suede heels. Expensive, every stitch of it.
"Good morning." Her voice is welcoming, confident, as if she's greeting a new jury.
"Good —" Nick begins.
Gardiner silences him by ignoring him. "Andrew DiPrado," she acknowledges with a trace of a nod.
"Yes, I —"
"Elijah Lansberry? Nick Soderberg?" She semi-smiles at the two men, seeming to guess.
"Yes," they say. Then apparently they can't decide whether to laugh about their simultaneous response.
She ignores them.
She's turned to me, lingering a fraction of a second longer than she did with the other three. Or I could be wrong about that. Does she remember me? Or is it even about remembering? Maybe, as Jack predicted, she's chosen me on purpose.
"Come with us, Ms. North," she says.
I know I am not imagining a tone in her voice, a tone no one else would notice, a tone she could deny. But I know it's there. Or it could simply be that Jack's suspicions are coloring my perception.
"Should I bring my —" I begin. What does 'Come with us' mean? With who? Why? Where?
But the doorframe is empty.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Murder List"
Copyright © 2019 Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Murder List , is the most complex,,edge of your seat, twists and turns, BEST read of the season.Get your white board out, see if you can figure out the murderer before the end! Hank Phillippi Ryan you have risen to the top of the list of greatest authors.... and my Holiday shopping is complete .
No surprise, but it looks like author Hank Phillippi Ryan has done it again. If this sneak peek of The Murder List is any indication you will be flipping pages as fast as you can when the book is released. I thoroughly enjoy Ryan’s Charlotte McNally and Jane Ryland series, but with her standalones Trust Me and now The Murder List she has ramped things up a notch and joined my favorite authors like Lisa Scottoline, Karin Slaughter and Sarah Pinborough for heart-stopping suspense, well developed characters and a strong plot. Even in this sneak peek I have a sense of dread and uncertainty from the very start. What exactly happened in Rachel’s past? She seems smart and capable but there’s something I can’t put my finger on, and she seems to defer to, or sidestep or almost be intimidated by her husband Jack. I don’t really like him and I’m not sure I trust him to have Rachel’s best interests at heart. And her new boss? What a cast of characters. Can’t wait for the release of the full book. I know I’m going to read it in one sitting and love it.