Gil Dulac, a police investigator in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sees his sleepy city infested with a pandemic of sexual depravity. So it’s no surprise to him when twelve-year-old Eric Wells goes missing. Now, as the clock winds down on a horrifying reality, the detective must use his wits, resolve, and experiences to somehow find the boy alive.
Theodore Weesner takes the reader deep into the conflicting desires and motivations of a broken family, a frustrated perpetrator, and an immensely complex cop, to create a lightning-fast literary thriller that is “both powerful and moving” (The New York Times).
“A crime novel that more than any other . . . takes in the whole situation of the crime. There are no obvious villains here, or easy answers. This is not a genre novel. It belongs on the literature shelf.” —USA Today
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About the Author
Born in Flint, Michigan, to an alcoholic father and teenage mother who abandoned him at aged one, he spent a large part of his childhood in an unofficial foster home of an immobile woman of over five hundred pounds. This, however, gave him and his elder brother, Jack, a degree of freedom to explore and have a wide variety of childhood adventures. He nevertheless became introspective as a teenager, with a rebellious streak, which led to him not graduating from high school and also becoming involved in petty crime. Eventually returning to the care of his father, he finally took off on his own when he lied about his age and joined the army at seventeen.
The army provided the discipline previously lacking in Weesner’s life, and, whilst serving, he earned a high school equivalency diploma, which allowed him later attend Michigan State University, and later earn an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
His first novel, The Car Thief was published after excerpts had appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire and Atlantic Monthly. His short works have previously been published in the New Yorker, Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, Atlantic Monthly and Best American Short Stories. Likewise, his novels appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper’s, the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.
During his lifetime Weesner received the New Hampshire Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement, his novel The Car Thief won the Great Lakes Writers Prize, and The True Detective was cited in 1987 by the American Library Association as a notable book of that year. He was also the recipient of the Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities award.
A perfectionist, Theodore Weesner did meticulous research, and was never afraid of going back over and re-writing his work before publication, believing in the maxim “the great novel isn’t written, it's rewritten.”
Read an Excerpt
The True Detective
By Theodore Weesner
Astor + Blue Editions, LLCCopyright © 2012 Theodore Weesner
All rights reserved.
Here is Eric Wells, on Valentine's Day, lying on the living room floor, giving love a chance. Chin in hand, he keeps catching himself looking all the way through the TV screen where otherwise, on buzz saw feet, the Roadrunner is zipping everywhere. The old screen's black-and-white images don't quite matter now. Red colors keep coming up there. Blushes of valentine red. He is twelve years old and the colors are raising a warmth in him.
The card was in his desk at school yesterday. At the time he could only sneak a glance, but as he carried it home after school, trying to ignore that it was in his pants pocket, bending with his leg, its red colors kept stirring in him. Taking it into his bedroom, he closed the door. He looked at it and looked at it. If valentines were such mush, he wondered, why did it feel so good?
He gives the Roadrunner another try, until the feeling is in him again. He thinks, yuck. Then he thinks, this could be love, and catches himself tittering all the more as he tries and tries not to guess who could have put the dumb thing in his desk.
From the kitchen, close by, his mother says, "Eric, at least come have some toast."
Toying with a Matchbox car, he doesn't say anything. Always before he would have answered. The sensation is in him and he doesn't answer in the first moment and then not at all. Nor does he feel anything like hunger. Their apartment is small, and his mother is hardly a dozen feet away. How could a Navy Seal, he wonders—he's been dreaming for months of someday joining the U.S. Navy Seals—feel like this about a valentine?
Matthew, lying in bed with his eyes closed, is not asleep. There are two roll-away beds in the partitioned end of the apartment he shares with his little brother, but the winter sun seems this morning to heat only his own. Matthew is fifteen. His mood is terrible. The smell of chili cooking out there angers him and vaguely he wishes he were anywhere but where he is.
He gives a thought to a girl in school, a black girl of all things, who spoke to him yesterday, who seemed often lately to flirt with him. To another girl, over something in algebra, she said, "Let's ask Matt Wells. He always has his work done."
She was teasing; he never had his work done anymore. But there was her smile and there, too, were several tiny gold rings on the fingers of one hand and a gold earring in her ear. The combination suddenly struck him: gold and chocolate.
But lying in bed now within the aroma of chili, his mood is so awful he is close to tears. When he knows his mother has opened the door, he keeps his eyes closed and lets his anger thrive on her presence.
"Matt, don't you think it's time you got up?"
"Matt," she says.
Still he holds.
"Matt!" she says.
"What?" he says.
"I know you heard what I said."
He doesn't respond. He stops himself from shouting, or from collapsing within.
"Matt, you've got to stop being so hard on everybody," his mother says. "We can't live like this."
Guiding one of his paint-worn Matchbox cars, Eric gives an uncertain ride to a pair of plastic soldiers. Dumping the pair on the other side of a gorge, he drives back to pick up two more. He changes his mind, though, and glances over where the Roadrunner is still zipping around. That bird is so dumb, he thinks. Turning onto his back, he places his hands under his head and looks into the universe where there used to be but a ceiling.
"Eric, you don't have a fever, do you?" his mother says.
"Are you sure?"
He doesn't respond.
"I wish you'd eat something," she says, although on a pause her wish disappears with her back into the kitchen.
Returning from his journey, Eric looks once more at the television screen. He and the nineteen-inch, black-and-white set are the same age, and too often in her nostalgic moments his mother has told him that when she brought him home from the hospital they spent hours together watching everything that appeared on the tube. Except when he was nursing, she always adds, which was practically all the time. Maybe a year ago, when he was old enough to tell her how icky it made him feel when she talked like that, she told him that someday he'd enjoy recalling such things as how he put on his first pounds.
Well, here it is, he thinks. This is it. Sitting up, but not by choice, and in the grip of something serene, he touches his chin to a bridge between his knees. His insides continue on their spinning ride into the heavens. He'd have to admit—these things don't feel bad, these valentines and thoughts. They feel good right there at the tip of his spine, in the center of all that he never tells.
As the freedom of Saturday morning is pleasantly under way, Claire is cooking a pot of chili, on consignment from the Legion Hall where she works weekends as a waitress. The weather outside is unusually warm—a February thaw—and she cannot resist humming a little as she guides a wooden spoon through the deep mix. She enjoys cooking. All her life she has enjoyed Saturday mornings. They are her favorite hours of the week, the only time she hums.
Otherwise she is a packer at Boothbay Fisheries. Growing up in rural Maine, leaving school in the ninth grade, Claire has worked at the fishery eight years now, since her husband left—his whereabouts are unknown—and since she moved here with her two sons. If Claire is worrying over anything this unusually pleasant morning, it is her oldest son, Matt. He seems so unhappy anymore, seems to be going backward instead of forward. If only she could tell him something helpful. If only she could get him to stop being so mean to his little brother. And to himself, she thinks. She wonders if it's too late to dish out a good spanking. Would it do any good? Would it make things worse?
Who would believe it, Eric thinks, as he finds himself gazing yet again into the mystery overhead. He's never gone cuckoo like this before. His dreams have always been to build things. He'd use his vehicles to bulldoze roadways and airstrips; he'd throw pontoons over streams or bridge them with Popsicle sticks, and use rope and winch to save whatever trucks and troops he happened to allow to slip in their passage from one side to the other. Combat Naval Engineers was one of the neatest names he'd ever heard. So was Airborne Rangers. Frogmen. Special Forces. The names made his scalp sing, made his loins tingle, called up in him an urge to go out and build a fort or climb a tree. Who would believe something like this might so easily get in the way? Girls? Valentines?
Who would believe that on a Saturday morning, of all things, he wants to be in school? Wow, he thinks. He has to be going crazy.
Vanessa Dineen is the black girl's name. Thinking of her, Matt is taken with a desire to gaze at women in his hidden magazines. He is attracted at once to the escape the color photographs offer, the intersecting pink valentines—the glistening cuts of veal and pork—at the same time that he has no wish to take on the guilt he always feels afterwards.
He knows he's going to do it, though. It's always like this. He's too much in its grip already to turn back, unless someone walks in.
Someone does—just as his motor is revving up.
Lying on his side, the sheet tented by his shoulder, he has explored little more than a page or two when Eric blasts into the room. "What're you doing?" Matt snaps at him, letting the sheet collapse.
"Nothing—getting something—what do you care?"
Leaving, quickly, Eric leaves the door standing open. Matt could scream at him but doesn't. He could tear after him and smash him in the face, but he doesn't. Again, he could cry, but he doesn't do that either. Putting the magazine back under his mattress, he lies there. He stares at something just an inch before his eyes. His strength has left him; the feeling to cry nearly has him again, and his eyes blur as a spinning-away urge to exist no more passes through his mind.
In the distance a gull shrieks and calls up in Claire a feeling of spring. Soon again she is purring music of no known origin, guiding the wooden spoon. Not her mother, but her father used to hum like this. In their farmhouse near Lewiston, sitting around in cold weather, doing whatever repairing and tying and polishing there was to do, he often hummed. He winked. As the youngest, she received most of the winks. He was old—her parents were old enough to be grandparents when she was born—and their interest in her always seemed as fresh as day-old bread. Both were gone now, and here she was, living like this, a divorced mother, living in an apartment.
She nips a taste of chili. It should be satisfying, she thinks, to just be home like this on a Saturday morning, preparing food. It is—almost. Except for what seems to be wrong. She'll have to come up with something, she thinks.
What would a father do? Would a father rail at Matthew? Deny him privileges? What privileges does he have in the first place?
When he closes his eyes—Eric has just learned—the outer space, valentine sensation will come up in him. Awesome, he thinks, eyes closed to the ceiling, a door going up on his heart, all his organs playing him this serenade they have never played before.
Merely to respend the pleasure, he looks back at how it started. There is the white envelope with his name. Inside is the red card. And there, as the card is opened, is the message, flying on its arrow directly into his chest: I have my eye on you! Won't you be my Valentine?
In a felt-tip pen it is signed Guess Who.
He has guessed a little. He has guessed almost everyone, and no one. Mainly, in the flush of things, he has settled on no one. Nor does the problem of loyalty go away as he lies staring at the ceiling. There are his comrades in battle, under mortar attack. Someone has to throw a bridge over a ravine and save lives. And there is his sweetheart back home, and she nearly has a name by now. How weird, he thinks, that this new call is so much stronger than the other.
Matthew's eyes remain closed; the cooking smell continues to upset him. His other escape, after those under the bedsheet, is to think of his father. He likes to invent secret futures in which his father returns or in which he goes away to find him. Runs away. He can come up with dreams, almost any time, in which life appears new and possible again. He and his old man on the road. Tooling along in a car. Working construction. Running cable, like they do on TV.
He'd give anything, he thinks all at once, to be eighteen, to be on his own.
Maybe he'll take off. A couple years ago they heard that his father was working construction in New Orleans, and in his school's reference room he looked up the city in the atlas. He studied a patch of yellow on the map, which indicated the city's size; he envisioned his father there, deep within the map's color, working about the skeleton of a new building. What if he wrote to New Orleans? What if he took off and hitchhiked south?
Getting out of bed at last, Matthew stands in his underwear beside the chilled windowpane, looking down over the tops of parked cars. In recent days a new thought of his father has been in his mind. Standing with other boys in and around school, it has struck him how they are all making moves in their lives, and not for the day alone or for the semester, but for bigger things. Jobs. Cars. Money. They were getting driver's licenses, working part-time in the offices and shops where their fathers work. Girls. They were walking boldly with girls. They spoke of dates, of stopping at girls' houses.
His father was a journeyman electrician, Matt has thought, and would be one still. If he were here, he thinks; if his father were here, working construction like he did before, then he could say things in school himself. He could speak up in the company of boys, and of girls too, and in the company of teachers, for journeyman electricians, as everyone knew, made what was more important than anything else; they made good money.CHAPTER 2
A dozen miles inland, along the river and across the Great Bay, a young man, Vernon Fischer, is waiting for a telephone call. Twenty-one, a senior at the University of New Hampshire, Vernon is sitting at a picnic table in a pond-side cabin two miles west of Durham, where the university is located. He is sitting over an empty coffee mug, over pencils, school papers, books, glancing over the surface, but really over his life, and letting time slide by.
He knows his friend isn't going to call. At the same time he has an ear perked for the telephone's ring. His thought is to take up the receiver before it rings a second time and awakens his housemates. He wants to at least have privacy, in case the words he has to hear, or speak, are difficult.
They will be difficult all right, he knows, just as he knows the telephone is not going to ring. Would he be able to speak at all? In these past days his capacity to talk has been getting even worse. All his life he has had difficulty facing such problems, and lately he has not been able to face them at all. His friend, he knows, is not going to call.
This is so hard to believe, he tells himself. This isn't him. He isn't sitting here like this, confused over such a thing. A friendship with a teenager at that, he thinks. It isn't anything really, and it is based on practically nothing—except, of course, that it was the first time he had ever let himself go in such a way.
Taking up a wooden pencil, he rolls it in his fingers. He glances at a textbook, a pad of paper. He could at least get some reading done while he waits, he thinks. At the same time, he knows he has no capacity to take in the demanding words and meaning in the book before him, called Molecular Biology as Art and Science. Each thin, silken page, he knows, presents a maze of complexity. A devoted student—if nothing else, he reminds himself—he has devoured many such books. In the best of times, though, he had to shut out the surrounding world, had to take on each phrase, each diagram, illustration, and concept, had to fix it, look at it from another side, all the time urging himself to see and think, to put things together, to succeed, to show them, to show every person he had ever known who had had no belief in him, who had avoided him ...
Stop it, he says to himself, as he thinks again of the fool he made of himself last night. He sees himself waiting at the door to Anthony's dormitory, acting as if he were not waiting to catch him with someone else. What an impossible scene. How could anyone act so badly?
Getting to his feet, Vernon walks over to look through the window above the kitchen sink. He knows the telephone, on the counter to his right, is within reach of his arm. He decides yet again, however, that it isn't going to ring. He knows the worst thing to do is to listen for it to ring. Please ring, he says to himself. Let me have one more chance. Please let me have one more chance.
He looks through the window. He wonders for the moment who he is, and how he has come to be where he is today. The hurt he feels is so strange, he thinks. How could it be this way? Was it because he had been bottled up all his life?
He looks again through the glass, although the position of his head has not changed. From this angle the pond spreading out below has the shape of a dollar sign. Ice covers the pond. A single curving piece, he sees. It fits perfectly. There have been so many secrets in his life, he thinks. Secret games and stories. They lasted all day, sometimes all summer or all year. Some lasted still. In fact, anything that had ever been important to him had been a secret. Secret hopes. Wishes. A wish that someone might speak to him in school, take a seat next to him. Appear on the sidewalk if he turned a certain corner. Telephone on Saturday afternoon. Now he has this secret wish in him that the telephone will ring and that it will be his friend, even as he knows this wish will go the way of all his previous secret wishes.
Excerpted from The True Detective by Theodore Weesner. Copyright © 2012 Theodore Weesner. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions, LLC.
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