Booklist Starred Review
A ruthless psychopath with a long-held grudge unleashes a terrifying scheme of revenge on a small New England town in this tautly-paced, compelling thriller.
Liza Plain, a Boston-based journalist hoping for her big break, is dreading spending Christmas in Shiloh, Rhode Island, with her difficult grandfather – until news of the disappearance of a retired local priest triggers her realization that this could be linked to a series of unsolved, church-linked missing persons cases.
Michael Rider used to be a decent man with a good life, but a past traumatic event with far-reaching consequences has left him dangerously close to breaking point. Now he is receiving strange emails from an organisation calling itself Whirlwind, offering him the chance to avenge himself on those who’ve done him wrong.
Liza and Michael will both be in Shiloh on Christmas Eve. The night a raging blizzard seals off the town from the outside world. The night an outrage is perpetrated – and Liza will find herself at the heart of a major news story, caught in an abyss of nightmarish discovery and life-threatening danger.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.55(w) x 8.74(h) x (d)|
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By Hilary Norman
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Hilary Norman
All rights reserved.
The mother was never quite certain if her son's voice truly soared above the others in the choir of St Matthew's, and it was not, of course, right or proper to let her pride show, or even to feel it. Her husband had once said that a choir dragged from a congregation as limited as Shiloh's could have little to commend it.
'All the boy needs to do is hold a note in all that caterwauling and he's going to sound like Johnny-fucking-Mathis,' he said.
She seldom dared to argue or to admonish him; she knew her place.
But he was wrong about their son's voice. And on this Good Friday, right or not, she felt pride to the very depths of her soul, listening to him singing 'We glory in your cross, O Lord' with the other choristers.
Pride not the only sin she was guilty of.
'Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.' Ephesians, chapter five, verse twenty-two.
She tried not to complain, but sometimes it was hard.
'Let your ways be known upon earth,' her son and the choir and congregation sang.
The mother sang too, returning her thoughts to the service and their lovely church, gazing around at its peaceful walls and up at its vaulted ceiling – before allowing herself another snatched glance at her boy, for whom she thanked God every single day.
And did so again now.
The boy felt the glow.
Of singing for the Lord. And for his mom, too, because all this was thanks to her. For reading to him from her Bible when he was a little kid, explaining it to him, making it easy, telling him the stories in her own words too, which was why, later on, while other boys at school were swapping Spider-Man or Hulk comics, he'd be daydreaming about Joseph and his coat or Daniel in the lions' den.
Or about how best he could serve Him.
His dad hated it, got mad if he caught him reading the Bible, then took it out on his mom. Which was why he'd started taking it to his secret place to read.
No one – not even his mom – knew about that place.
Safer that way, because soon as anyone knew, they'd stop him going there, for sure.
He'd been there when the Angel had come.
He thought, later, that it might have happened so he could help his mother, because of how mean his father was to her sometimes, and because she deserved better than him.
Not his place to think that, but honoring his father wasn't always easy, and it hurt to see how sad his mom looked sometimes. Except when she was here, in church.
That had to be why the Angel had come to him.
He'd known right away that it was the Angel of the Lord.
That voice, so loud in his head. Louder even than the banging of his headaches, left over, his mom had once explained, from the sickness that had nearly killed him as a baby. So loud, filling his whole skull, that it was impossible to tell if the voice was male or female, but the boy figured it had to be male, because the angels in the Bible always were ...
Not that it was important.
It was what had been said to him that was important.
What the Angel had told him to do.
The boy had no words to describe how important that was.
And how terrible.
His very own covenant.
Which maybe made some kind of sense because he lived in a village called Shiloh, which was the name of the place in the Bible where the Ark of the Covenant had first been kept. And he wondered for a while – trying to keep from thinking about what he had been told to do – if anyone living in any other US towns named Shiloh might have gotten messages from the Angel too, had maybe been given the same command.
To give up what they loved most.
He wondered if they felt the way he did about it.
Part resentful, part afraid, part awestruck.
Mostly awestruck. At having been chosen.
Which meant he had no choice. None at all.
And now he was almost out of time.
Because tomorrow was Holy Saturday.CHAPTER 2
Reverend Thomas Pike's soft rubber-soled footsteps were almost inaudible as he entered St Matthew's at six p.m. on Saturday evening.
The church – his church as he privately thought of it, his appointment as vicar having been approved by the diocesan bishop himself – was empty, awaiting the start of the Easter Vigil, just two hours away.
It would be dark then, as they began, but for now the vicar turned on all the lights, needing to see the place fully illuminated for his final inspection.
He saw the boy immediately.
Up on the chancel, on his knees, one hand clasped to his forehead, apparently praying, oblivious to the vicar, and even to the lights that had been switched on.
For a moment, Thomas Pike stood still, silent.
And then he moved closer, and looked up at the altar.
The white cloth was stained the color of sacramental wine.
An animal – a cat – lay in the center of the cloth, its fur blood-soaked.
Anger rose sharply in the vicar, swiftly quelled by an admonition to be compassionate because clearly there had been an accident. The boy must have found the injured cat and, not knowing what else to do, brought it into the church to pray for its survival. An affront, certainly, but driven by distress and faith.
Pike took a few steps closer and recognized the boy, a member of his choir.
He took a breath, then cleared his throat.
The boy shuddered, but went on with his muttered prayers.
The cat, Pike saw now, was beyond help.
'Son,' he said, gently, 'you need to stop that now.'
The boy removed his hand from his forehead, turned his head and looked at the vicar, and Pike gasped because the animal's blood was on his face, smeared over his forehead and cheeks, on both his hands and all over his white shirt and tie.
His Sunday clothes.
Shock ousted compassion.
'In the name of God, what have you done?'
The boy's mouth opened, but no words came.
'Answer me,' Reverend Pike ordered.
'The Angel.' The boy's voice was a whisper. 'The Angel of the Lord came to me and told me to do it.'
Outrage flared in Thomas Pike's chest. Then, hard on its heels, fear.
Because he'd seen the knife tucked in the boy's belt, blood on its blade.
He steadied himself. 'Stand up.'
The boy's eyes were dark and unreadable. 'The Angel told me to put her on the altar. Like Genesis, chapter twenty-two, verse nine. "And Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac ..." Only I don't have a son, obviously, so the Angel said it had to be something I loved, which meant it had to be Molly.' The eyes filled with tears. 'And I asked the Angel if I really had to burn her, but he said —'
'Enough!' Reverend Pike's face was scarlet, his spectacles misting with heat. 'This is sacrilege, and you will get that thing off my altar and out of my church.'
'It's God's church,' the boy said, softly. 'And I have to finish.'
Pike watched him turn back to the altar and fought a violent urge to take hold of him, clenched his fists, struggling to bring himself under control. This was a choirboy, he reminded himself, the son of one of the most devout women in his flock.
'All right,' he said. 'You can stay.'
The boy crossed himself, closed his eyes and went back to his prayers.
The vicar turned around, walked up the center aisle to the narthex, took a large key from his pocket, his hand shaking, and locked the main door, then walked slowly back through the nave, up the steps to the chancel without another glance at the boy, opened the door that led to the vestry and his parlor, went through, closed the door behind him and locked that too.
For a moment he leaned against the cool wall, and then he looked at his wristwatch.
Six-twenty on Holy Saturday and a choirboy had gone mad in his church with little over an hour to go before the commencement of the Vigil.
A dead cat and a pool of blood on the altar cloth.
'God help us all,' said Pike.
And then he went into his parlor, opened the side door that led to Elm Street, stepped out into the fresh and pleasant April air – and began to run.
And over the next few hours, during the long, anguished night and day that followed, a woman lost her life, and others conspired to blot out what had happened, and to change forever the course of the woman's son's life.
And his trinity of losses began.
Two right away.
Mother and home.
The third coming later, more gradually, perhaps the greatest loss of all.
Because after that, he felt entirely alone.
And the boy who had spoken to angels began slowly crumbling to dust.
And flew down, into the dark.CHAPTER 3
Liza Plain was wandering around Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston's North End, browsing some of the seriously old tombstones, when she saw him.
Sitting on the grass by a gravestone about thirty feet away.
She thought it was him, though he was very changed.
But then, when he turned his head, noticed her and jumped to his feet, dumping a laptop into a bag, slinging it over his shoulder and wheeling his bicycle quickly away in the opposite direction, she knew it, for sure.
Michael Rider. Thirteen years older than when she'd last seen him, looking every day of it and then some. Still attractive, but thinner to the point of gauntness, and unshaven, his straight brown hair shorter than it had been, his clothes almost shabby.
Definitely not wanting contact with her.
Liza considered, momentarily, following him, wanting very much to speak to him, knowing of no valid reason why she should not. Yet still, she did have an idea, even some understanding, of what might have been behind that rapid departure.
There was a possibility that he might consider her guilty, by association, with the people who'd helped wreck his life. Because she'd let him down, even if that had been a long time ago and out of her control.
He'd told her, back then, that he'd never had much time for journalists. And her own grandfather always said that all journalists were scum.
Not that she was a real journalist these days, but still ... Something else struck her. The headstones she'd been looking at, not for the first time. Belonging, she was fairly certain, to past generations of the Cromwell family.
He was almost out of sight now, turning right to exit the burying ground, and Liza considered again going after him, but that would be pursuit, she guessed, and gave it up. Reminded herself of what he must have been through, was perhaps still going through even now.
He did not want to talk to her.
She did not entirely blame him.
Their families both hailed from Shiloh, a village in Providence County, Rhode Island, nestled up against the town of the same name to its immediate north, east and south, with woods and farming land to the west, just a few miles from the Connecticut state line.
Not a picture-perfect New England village, more of a mongrel of a place, Federal architecture rubbing shoulders with Greek Revival, Queen Anne-style, a Gothic Revival church and a number of very ordinary twentieth-century houses. St Matthew's Episcopal Church at the east end of Main Street was rather fine, designed by a follower of Upjohn, and there was a grand house called Shiloh Oaks on the south-west corner of Oak Street built by the same architect, a run of small useful shops and a café that was pretty good; and finally, there was the Shiloh Inn at the west end of Main, a comfortable place with a decent dining room overlooking the elm-lined street.
All in all, especially by comparison to some of the old, now run-down villages in that part of the state, Liza guessed that Shiloh had kept up appearances pretty well, though its absence of 'pedigree' had kept it out of the majority of guide books or Trip Advisor.
There was little reason to pause in Shiloh.
Unless you were an aficionado of high-profile true crime stories.
Of murder, in particular.
Shiloh was Liza's 'home town', but not her home.
Had not been for a number of years, would not be again.
The occasional weekend break was OK, and either Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year's – every other year and then only three nights max. Guilty as that often made her feel, any more time spent with her eighty-four-year-old, thoroughly disagreeable grandfather seemed almost intolerable to her.
It hadn't been easy even while her parents had still been there, but Andrew and Joanna Plain had died one icy February night five years ago after her father's car had skidded on Shiloh Road and hit a truck coming the other way. Three dead, Liza's greatest grief for her mom, an easygoing, generous person who'd never tried to change her daughter. Unlike Andrew Plain, forever disappointed in Liza for not following in the Plain tradition of doctoring, and his father, Stephen Plain, who was even more disapproving of the granddaughter who'd refused to fall in line, never appreciating that his own strong-willed gene had taken root in Liza.
She'd known from an early age that she wanted to become a journalist, or at least to be involved with the news. The Plains had cable, and while most of her contemporaries were watching teen shows, Liza had been lapping up Dan Rather and Connie Chung on the CBS Evening News, Bernard Shaw on CNN and Katie Couric on Today. Unorganized ambition had become determination, her short-term target the Department of Journalism at URI. Kingston was less than an hour away, which meant that she might easily have commuted, but Liza had wanted to live as full a student life as possible, specifically away from Shiloh.
Hard to say, her own home aside, exactly what had made her so keen to escape. Village life, for sure, with its innate claustrophobia, its inhabitants permanently avid to know everything about each other's lives, yet paradoxically clutching secrets close with almost unnatural intensity. But there had been something more than that, something uncomfortable about Shiloh, Liza had always felt, even as a child.
Nothing at college came easily, neither good grades nor the right internships nor – with her father opposed – funding. She took out a student loan, shared lodgings, worked part-time jobs in a diner and bar, and her mom secretly helped out when possible. Though Liza had cherished her time at URI, especially her fifteen hours a week with CBS Boston, and her work for The Good 5 Cent Cigar, the student news organization, she knew she'd only just scraped through, completing her major but aware by then, alas, that she was no blazing natural talent.
All the more reason to work harder, she told herself, crawling reluctantly back to Shiloh, on the lookout for her real way out.
'Pipe dreams,' Stephen Plain said.
'Better than no dreams,' Liza told him.
He'd told her once that journalists were odious vermin.
'I should know,' he'd added. 'We had enough of them here during the case.'
The case. The big story that had spun Shiloh onto the front page of the Providence Journal and into the Boston Globe five years before Liza's birth. A shocking, tragic tale of murder and suicide that had fascinated her ever since she'd become aware that she was surrounded by people who'd been a living part of the news.
Something else she'd fallen out with her grandfather about, because the local doctor had to have known more than most about the Cromwell case, but Stephen Plain had not only refused to speak to her about it, he'd ordered his son and daughter-in-law to follow his line. Liza had heard whispers of the ugly basics early on at school, but little more because the head teacher had banned the subject and, outside school, too, no one seemed to like talking about it, even the meager library in Shiloh Town Hall's basement having no more than the scantiest record.
Talk about asking to light sparks under an aspiring journalist.
'You will not allow that child to become a vulture.'
Liza had heard Stephen Plain saying that to her mother.
The sparks had fanned, and become a fire.CHAPTER 4
The June day was warm and pleasant, Main Street almost deserted just after noon because people were lunching – many at home, a few at Ellie's, the café on North Maple Street, and some inside Tilden's, the only restaurant in Shiloh Village.
It was quiet, too, except for the sounds from the school playground. Shiloh Elementary and its adjoining house – home to head teacher, Betty Hackett – stood at the west end of Main, and though some people found the noise of small children at play cheery, others found it irritating, and there had long been talk of relocating the kindergarten and primary school to the town, where Shiloh High was located.
Excerpted from Whirlwind by Hilary Norman. Copyright © 2016 Hilary Norman. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Michael Rider is a good man ... or at least he was. An event that occurred even before he was born cost him and his family everything. His grandfather was an accused murderer. Which led to his daughter (Rider's mother) leading a less than good life. She eventually turned to pills and booze which cost her her life. He is now angry and bitter. Liza Plain is a journalist. She is floundering in her life, and is now dreading the thought of spending Christmas with a grandfather who hates her. When their lives intersect, Liza finds herself embroiled not only in a decades old murder, but also the series of unsolved, church-linked missing persons. The first half of the book is little slow, but the author sets up the characters who all play such an important part of the story. A psychopath gives Michael the chance for revenge on a small town, Shiloh, in New England. It's the second half on the book that nearly took my breath away. It's chilling, and the fear and suspense ratchets higher and higher until the very explosive end. People are going to die. Secrets and lies will be exposed. The ending is something the reader never sees coming. Many thanks to the author / Severn House / Netgalley for the digital copy of WHIRLWIND. Opinions voiced here are unbiased and entirely my own.