Table of Contents
‘‘You’re going to think Meg Gardiner is a gift from heaven for thriller/mystery readers.’’—Stephen King
‘‘Do me a favor, okay? Lay your hands on . . .
. [It] had me at page one. Miss Gardiner makes it all work. . . . Amazingly entertaining.’’ —Stephen King ‘‘[An] exciting mix. Great stuff.’’
Independent on Sunday
‘‘With a colorful cast of richly delineated characters, a protagonist with whom the readers will easily identify—all big hearted, quick tongued, and hair-trigger tempered . . . a fast-paced ride through some of the more dubious nooks and crannies of the American dream.’’
‘‘Fast and hard-edged. Buy it, read it.’’
Hull Daily Mail
‘‘A cracker, with memorable characters, memorable lines, and a plot that races along to an explosive ending. A great summer read.’’ —
Huddersfield Daily Examiner
‘‘Very well written, racy, and witty.’’ —Tangled Web
‘‘From beginning to end,
is a book no reader of thrillers will be able to put down. Great characters, dynamic plot, nail-biting action—Meg Gardiner gives us everything.’’ —Elizabeth George
‘‘Evan Delaney is a paragon for our times: tough, funny, clever, brave, tireless, and compassionate. The pace and inventiveness never flag, and the climax . . . is both nail-biting and moving. But the brilliant writing is what puts this thriller way ahead of the competition. Intelligent escapism at its best.’’ —
‘‘I loved every minute of it. A breathtaking thriller, gripping and relentless.’’
—Caroline Carver, CWA Dagger-winning author of
‘‘A rattling good read.’’ —
News of the World
‘‘The action is high octane from the first page. Once you pick it up, it’s a very hard book to put down.’’
‘‘Fast and furious.’’ —
The Literary Review
‘‘Full of classic Gardiner one-liners . . . but mostly there’s a serious freezerload of scare-you-silly chills.’’
‘‘A tense and exciting thriller where almost anything seems possible. A conspiracy theorist’s must-have.’’
Independent on Sunday
‘‘Easily one of the best thrillers I’ve read this year. I could barely wait to get to the next page. If you start this book be prepared to be unable to put it down. Meg Gardiner has written a cracker.’’ —Caroline Carver
‘‘This book rips. It makes
Silence of the Lambs
look like Mary had a little one—it never lets up.’’
—Adrienne Dines, author of
The Jigsaw Maker
‘‘A harrowing (and all too timely) story of corporate greed and evildoing in quirky Southern California.’’
‘‘A rattling good read with an unexpected twist.’’
‘‘Fiction at its finest . . . many nail-biting moments and hand-wringing twists.’’
‘‘Simply put, the finest crime suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years . . . your basic can’t-put ’em-down thrill rides.
‘‘Meg Gardiner is a welcome addition to the ranks of American thriller writers.’’ —
The Daily Telegraph
‘‘Meg Gardiner has rekindled my interest in thrillers.’’
‘‘Meg Gardiner is a class act at the top of her game.’’
‘‘Meg Gardiner has a powerful style—fast-paced, immediate, and imaginative.’’ —
‘‘Meg Gardiner goes from strength to strength.’’
‘‘Meg Gardiner is brilliant at making the over-the-top seem utterly convincing.’’ —
‘‘Meg Gardiner hard-boils her American crime with the best of them. . . . If you like Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, you ought to have discovered Gardiner by now.’’ —
‘‘Meg Gardiner takes us to places we hope we’ll never have to go in reality.’’ —Caroline Carver
Also by Meg Gardiner
The Dirty Secrets Club
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. This is an authorized reprint of an edition published by Hodder & Stoughton. For information address: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH
First Obsidian Printing, August 2008
Copyright © Meg Gardiner, 2004
All rights reserved
OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
eISBN : 978-1-4406-3269-3
For my children, Kate, Mark, and Nate
A number of people have helped with the creation of this novel. For their support and advice I would like to thank: Paul Shreve—husband, guitar player, and my everything, day and night; the writers’ group—Mary Albanese, Suzanne Davidovac, Adrienne Dines, Nancy Fraser, and Tammye Huf—for never letting me get away with less than my best; Caroline Carver; Marilyn Moreno and Hector Moreno, attorneys at law; my editor, Sue Fletcher, for her clear eye and inerrant sense of direction; Swati Gamble; and for his wisdom and belief in me, deepest gratitude to the late Giles Gordon.
It’s only rock ’n’ roll, I hear. What a lie.
We know—any of us who has held a lover skin against skin while a song aches from the car radio. Anyone who has shed rage or sorrow to a thundering backbeat. Anyone who holds a guitar and strikes a chord and hears the shout rise from the crowd. We know. It’s glory, it’s riches, it’s a craving. It’s immortality. And as I drove through a winter storm, with rain drumming on the windshield and dark rhythms pounding in my ears, I was about to discover another truth. That night, it was also death.
I pulled into the driveway just as the sofa tumbled off the balcony in front of me. It was on fire, an orange shriek in the night. I braked. It hit the driveway and a burning cushion bounced onto the concrete. Though the rain was a cold lash, the fire burned bright. People stood in the street, cheering. Sorority girls danced under the flame’s light. From the house came hoots and braying, and a keg flew off the balcony. It crashed in front of the couch and flailed beer in an arc. The girls dashed away shrieking.
Welcome to Friday night in Isla Vista.
My stomach was roiling. Eleven p.m. on a February night, and the phone had stabbed me awake.
Can you come? We don’t know what else to do. He had your phone number with him.
Midterms were over; that’s why IV was romping tonight. Take fifteen thousand college students, add testosterone and ethyl alcohol, and you get
The Lord of the Flies
with a Top 40 soundtrack. I rolled down my window to double-check the address. Del Playa Drive—when I went to the university, I had neither the cash nor the cool to live here. The wind kicked up, blowing rain onto my face. I wiped my eyes, backed the Explorer onto the street, and parked. This was the place.