Monday, September 10, 2012

Read an excerpt from John Verdon's newest

Have you read any of his books?  They are on my Wishlist, but now that I have received an excerpt to share I must start this series.

Due to being on hurricane watch this weekend I didn't get a chance to post for Thrill Week.


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Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon

--Copyright 2012 by John Verdon

--Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York


Excerpt (pp. 67-74) 2,623 words


Forty minutes later, with two large coffees in the car, Gurney was driving up the twisty dirt road that led from Abelard’s General Store in Dillweed to an even twistier dirt road, hardly a road at all—more like an abandoned cattle path—at the end of which Jack Hardwick lived in a small rented farmhouse. Gurney parked next to Hardwick’s attitude car—a partially restored red 1970 Pontiac GTO.

         The sparse, intermittent snowflakes had been replaced by a pin-pricky mist. As Gurney stepped up onto the creaking porch, one coffee container in each hand, the door swung open to reveal Hardwick in a T-shirt and cutoff sweatpants, his shaggy gray crew cut uncombed. They’d seen each other face-to-face only once since Gurney’s hospitalization six months earlier, at a state-police inquiry into the shooting, but Hardwick’s opening line was characteristic.

         “So tell me—how the fuck do you know little Kimmy?”

         Gurney extended one of the coffees. “Through her mother. You want this?”

         Hardwick took it, opened the flap on the lid, tasted it. “Is the mom as hot as the kid?”

         “For Christ’s sake, Jack . . .”

         “That a yes or a no?” Hardwick stepped back to let Gurney in.

         The outer doorway led directly into a large front room that Gurney would have expected to be furnished as a living room, but it was hardly furnished at all. The pair of leather armchairs with a stack of books between them on a bare pine floor looked more like things about to be moved than a planned seating arrangement.

         Hardwick was watching him. “Marcy and I broke up,” he said, as if explaining the emptiness of the place.

         “Sorry to hear that. Who’s Marcy?”

         “Good question. Thought I knew. Apparently not.” He took a longer sip of his coffee. “I must have a big blind spot when it comes to evaluating loony women with nice tits.” Another sip, even longer. “But so what? We’ve all got our blind spots, right, Davey?”

         Gurney had figured out long ago that the part of Hardwick that went through him like a needle was the part that reminded him of his father—this despite the fact that Gurney was currently forty-eight and Hardwick, although gray-haired and roughly weathered, was not quite forty.

         Every so often Hardwick would hit the precise note of cynicism, the perfect echo, that would transport Gurney back into the apartment from whose high window he’d shot that inexplicable arrow, the apartment from which his first marriage had provided an escape.

         The image that came to him now: He was standing in their cramped apartment’s living room, his father dispensing drunken wisdom, telling him his mother was loony, telling him all women were loony, couldn’t be trusted. Best not to tell them anything. “You and I are men, Davey, we understand each other. Your mother’s a little . . . a little off, you know what I mean? No need for her to know I was drinking today, right? Only cause trouble. We’re men. We can talk to each other.” Gurney was eight years old.

         The forty-eight-year-old Gurney made an effort to return to Hard- wick’s living room, to the moment at hand.

         “She helped herself to half the shit in the house,” said Hardwick. He took another sip, sat in one of the armchairs, waved Gurney toward the other one. “What can I do for you?”

         Gurney lowered himself into the chair. “Kim’s mother is a journalist I know from years ago on the job. She asked me for a favor—‘Look over Kim’s shoulder’ is the way she put it. Now I’m trying to find out what I’m involved in, thought maybe you could help. Like I said on the phone, Kim listed you as a source.”

         Hardwick stared at his coffee container as if it were a perplexing artifact. “Who else is on her list?”

         “FBI guy by the name of Trout. And Max Clinter, the cop who fucked up the pursuit of the shooter.”

         Hardwick let out a harsh bray that turned into a fit of coughing. “Wow! The uptight prick of the century and a psycho drunk. I’m in hot-shit company.”

         Gurney took a long swallow from his coffee container. “When do we get to the colorful, significant tidbits?”

Hardwick extended his scarred, muscular legs and leaned far back in his chair. “Stuff the press never got hold of?”


         “I guess one thing would be the little animals. You didn’t know about those, did you?”

         “Little animals?”

         “Little plastic replicas. Part of a set. An elephant. A lion. A giraffe. A zebra. A monkey. A sixth one I can’t remember.”

         “And how were these—”

         “One was found at the scene of each attack.”


         “In the general vicinity of the victim’s car.”

         “General vicinity?”

         “Yeah, like they’d been tossed there from the shooter’s car.”

         “Lab work on these little animals lead anywhere?”

         “No prints, nothing like that.”


         “But they were part of a kid’s play set. Something called Noah’s World. Like one of those diorama things. The kid builds a model of Noah’s Ark, then he puts the animals in it.”

         “Any distribution angle, stores, factory variables, ways of tracing that particular set?”

         “Dead end. Very popular toy. A Walmart staple. They sold like seventy-eight thousand of them. All identical, all made in one factory in Hung Dick.”


         “China. Who the fuck knows? It doesn’t matter. The sets are all the same.”

         “Any theories regarding the significance of those individual animals?”

         “Lots of them. All bullshit.”

         Gurney made a mental note to readdress that issue later. When later? What the hell was he thinking? The plan was to look over Kim’s shoulder. Not volunteer for a job no one had asked him to do.

         “Interesting,” said Gurney. “Any other little oddities that weren’t released for public consumption?”

         “I suppose you could call the gun an oddity.”

         “My recollection is that the news reports just referred to a large-caliber handgun.”

         “It was a Desert Eagle.”

         “The .50-caliber monster?”

         “The very one.”

         “The profilers must have zeroed in on that.”

         “Oh, yeah, big-time. But the oddity wasn’t just the size of the weapon. Out of the six shootings, we retrieved two bullets in good enough shape for reliable ballistics and a third that would be marginal for courtroom use but definitely suggestive.”

         “Suggestive of what?”

         “The three bullets came from three different Desert Eagles.”


         “That was the reaction everyone had.”

         “Did that ever lead to a multiple-shooter hypothesis?”

         “For about ten minutes. Arlo Blatt came up with one of his dumber-than-dumb ideas: that the shootings might be some kind of gang-initiation ritual and every gang member had his own Desert Eagle. Of course, that left the little problem of the manifesto, which read like it was written by a college professor, and your average gang member can barely spell the word ‘gang.’ Some other people had less stupid ideas, but ultimately the single-shooter concept won out. Especially after it was blessed by the Behavioral Unit geniuses at the FBI. The attack scenes were essentially identical. The approach, shooting, and escape reconstructions were identical. And after a little psychological tweaking of their model, it made as much sense to the profilers for this guy to be using six Desert Eagles as it made for him to be using one.”

         Gurney responded only with a pained expression. He’d had mixed experiences with profilers over the years and tended to regard their achievements as no more than the achievements of common sense and their failures as proof of the vacuity of their profession. The problem with most profilers, especially those with a streak of FBI arrogance in their DNA, was that they thought they actually knew something and that their speculations were scientific.

         “In other words,” said Gurney, “using six outrageous guns is no more outrageous than using one outrageous gun, because outrageous is outrageous.”

         Hardwick grinned. “There’s one final oddity. All of the victims’ cars were black.”

“A popular Mercedes color, isn’t it?”

         “Basic black accounted for about thirty percent of the total production runs of the models involved, plus maybe another three percent for a metallic variant of black. So a third—thirty-three percent. The odds, then, would be that two of the six vehicles attacked would have been black—unless the color black were part of the shooter’s selection criteria.”

         “Why would color be a factor?”

         Hardwick shrugged, tilting his coffee container and draining the last of it into his mouth. “Another good question.”

         They sat quietly for a minute. Gurney was trying to connect the “oddities” in some way that might explain them all, then gave up, realizing he would need to know a lot more before such random details could be arranged into a pattern.

         “Tell me what you know about Max Clinter.”

         “Maxie is a special kind of guy. A mixed blessing.”

         “How mixed?”

         “He’s got a history.” Hardwick looked thoughtful, then let out a

grating laugh. “I’d love to see you guys get together. Sherlock the Logical Genius meets Ahab the Whale Chaser.”

         “The whale in question being . . . ?”

“The whale being the Good Shepherd. Maxie always had a tendency to sink his teeth into something and not let go, but after the little mishap that ended his career, he became a walking definition of demented determination. Catching the Good Shepherd was not the main purpose of his life, it was the only purpose. Made a lot people back away.” Hardwick gave Gurney a sideways look, accompanied by another rough laugh. “Be fun to see you and Ahab shoot the shit.”

         “Jack, anybody ever tell you your laugh sounds like someone flush- ing a toilet?”

         “Not anybody who was asking me for a favor.” Hardwick rose from his chair, brandishing his empty coffee container. “It’s a miracle how fast the human body converts this stuff into piss.” He headed out of the room.

         He returned a couple of minutes later and perched on the arm of his chair, speaking as though there’d been no interruption. “If you want to know about Maxie, best place to start would be the famous Buffalo mob incident.”


         “Famous in our little upstate world. Important Big Apple dicks like you probably never even heard about it.”

         “What happened?”

         “There was a mob guy in Buffalo by the name of Frankie Benno, who had organized the resurgence of heroin in western New York. Everyone knew this, but Frankie was smart and careful and protected by a handful of scumbag politicians. The situation started to obsess Maxie. He was determined to bring Frankie in for questioning, even though he couldn’t find anything specific to charge him with. He decided to bring things to a head by ‘harassing the fucker into making a mistake’—that was the last thing Maxie said to his wife before he went to a restaurant that was a known hangout for Frankie’s people, in a building that Frankie owned.”

         Gurney’s first thought was that “harassing the fucker into making a mistake” was a tricky objective. His second thought was that he’d done it often enough himself, except he called it “putting the suspect under pressure to observe his reactions.”

         Hardwick went on. “Maxie goes into the restaurant dressed and acting like a thug. He goes straight into the back room where Frankie’s crew hung out when they weren’t busy cracking heads. There’s two wiseguys in the room, sucking up linguine in clam sauce. Maxie walks over to them, pulls out a gun and a little disposable camera. He tells the wiseguys they have a choice: They can have their picture taken with their brains blown out or they can have it taken giving each other blow jobs. Up to them. Their choice. They have ten seconds to decide. They can grab each other’s cocks or their brains are on the wall. Ten . . .”

         Hardwick leaned toward Gurney, eyes sparkling, seemingly enthralled by the events he was recounting. “But Maxie is standing kinda close to them—too close—and one of the wiseguys reaches out and grabs the gun away from him. Maxie backs away and falls on his ass. The wiseguys are about to stomp the shit out of him, but Maxie suddenly drops the thug routine and starts screaming that he’s not what he was pretending to be, he’s really just an actor. He says somebody put him up to it, and nobody would have gotten hurt anyway, because the gun isn’t even real, it’s a stage prop. He’s practically crying. The wiseguys check the gun. Sure enough, it’s a fake. So now they want to know what the fuck’s going on, who put him up to it, et cetera. Maxie claims he doesn’t know, but that he’s supposed to meet the guy the next day to give him back the camera with the blow-job pictures and get five grand for his trouble. One of the wiseguys goes out to a pay phone on the street—this is before everybody had cell phones. When he comes back in, he tells Maxie they’re going to take him upstairs because Mr. Benno is upset. Maxie looks like he’s about to shit in his pants, begs them please just let him go. But they take him upstairs. Upstairs there’s a fortified office. Steel doors, locks, cameras. Major security. Frankie Benno is up there with two other wiseguys. When they bring Maxie into the inner sanctum, Frankie gives him a long, hard look. Then a nasty smile—like a great idea has just dawned on him. He says, ‘Take off your clothes.’ Maxie starts to whine like a baby. Frankie says, ‘Take off your fucking clothes and give me the fucking camera.’ Maxie gives him the camera, backs up against the wall like he’s trying to get as far away from these guys as he can. He takes off his jacket and shirt, then drops his pants. But his shoes are still on. So he sits down on the floor and starts pushing his pants down, but they’re caught up in a bunch around his ankles. Frankie tells him to hurry up. Frankie’s four wiseguys are grinning. Suddenly Maxie’s hands come up from the pants around his ankles, and in each hand he’s got a neat little SIG .38 pistol.” Hardwick paused dramatically. “What do you think of that?”

         The first thing he thought about was his own concealed Beretta.

         Then he thought about Clinter. Although the man was definitely a gambler and probably a little nuts, he knew how to create a layered narrative and how to manage it under pressure. He knew how to manipulate vicious and impulsive people, how to make them reach the conclusions he wanted them to reach. For an undercover cop—or a magician—there was no set of skills more valuable than that. But Gurney could sense something lurking in the arc of the story—something that foretold an ugly ending.

         Hardwick continued. “Exactly what happened next was the subject of an extensive Bureau investigation. But in the final analysis all they really had was Max’s word for it. He said simply that he’d believed his life was in immediate danger and he’d acted accordingly, with force appropriate to the circumstances. Bottom line, he left five dead mob- sters in that office and walked away without a scratch on him. From that day until the night five years later when he flushed it all down the toilet, Max Clinter had an aura of invincibility.”

         “Do you know what he’s doing now, how he supports himself?”

         Hardwick grinned. “Yeah. He’s a gun dealer. Unusual guns. Collectibles. Crazy military shit. Maybe even Desert Eagles.”



  1. I've read the first one. Loved it!!! I have the second on my shelf and was lucky enough to find out last week tat I had won a copy of this one! S I hope to get up to date with it soon. Naturally, I'l pass on entering this time :-)

  2. I just finished this last night! It was a very good read :)

  3. I read this last week and enjoyed it. Look forward to the next book in the series.

  4. Never heard of it before, but it sounds like it might be action-packed and full of mysteries. ;)

  5. Loved the excerpt. My favorite is-Gurney parked next to Hardwick's attitude car-a partially restored red 1970 Pontaic GTO. I like the author calling it an attitude car. Sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for having the giveaway.



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