“The macho world of the whodunit has never seen a sleuth like Lindsay Gordon” and now she must investigate the murder of a bestselling author and a kidnapping with international implications (Manchester Evening News).
Booked for Murder: Why would anyone want to kill Penny Varnavides, bestselling author of the Darkliners series? Her demise can’t be the freak accident it first appeared; it’s an exact replica of the murder method in her forthcoming book. Only three people knew the plot of Penny’s unpublished novel: her literary agent, her editor, and her ex-girlfriend Meredith.
In an effort to clear Meredith’s name, Lindsay Gordon delves beneath the glittering facade of the seemingly glamorous world of London publishing in search of a murderer. While hobnobbing with industry notables, Lindsay encounters an unsavory mix of soured relationships, desperate power plays, underhanded fraud, and seething rivalries.
Hostage to Murder: Spraining an ankle is rarely a stroke of luck, but for Lindsay Gordon, jobless in Glasgow, the injury is her introduction to young freelance journalist Rory McLaren. And when a local car dealer’s stepson is kidnapped, Lindsay and Rory trade journalism for detection. The trail leads them to St. Petersburg and a dangerous snatch-back operation. It’s a journey that brings a whole new dimension of risk into Lindsay’s life. Back in Glasgow, it becomes clear that Lindsay and Rory have stumbled into a bigger, more violent piece of business than either of them could have guessed—one which will test Lindsay to her absolute limits.
About the Author
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Lindsay Gordon jogged gently along the hard sand at the edge of the Pacific surf on Half Moon Bay. Against the rhythmic beat of Air Nikes on wet sand and the thud of blood pulsing in her ears, the waves crashed less regularly. Ahead of her, Mutton chased the foaming surf as it retreated across the sand to be sucked back into the vast body of water, occasionally pausing to bark a deep protest as some bubbles he'd been particularly attached to disappeared. Other joggers might have Walkmen clamped to their heads, shutting out everything except their chosen sounds. Lindsay preferred a more natural music, particularly on a day like today when she had death on her mind.
The day had given no indication that it was going to bring tears before bedtime. She'd got up with Sophie and they'd eaten breakfast on the deck together — peaches, bananas, grapes and walnuts chopped up and sprinkled with Grape Nuts, freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice and, for Lindsay only, the industrial-strength coffee she still needed to kick-start her day. It didn't matter how healthy her diet and her habits became; she had grown up on a high-voltage caffeine jolt first thing in the morning, and herbal tea was never going to boot her synapses into activity. Later than usual, because it was Sunday and she was only on standby, Sophie had headed north to the hospital in the Bay Area where she worked with HIV-positive mothers, leaving Lindsay to her computer. She preferred to work when Sophie was on duty so she could enjoy their time off together without guilt. Consequently, she didn't mind settling down with more coffee and a pile of photocopied newspaper cuttings next to her keyboard.
Six years before, she'd stopped practising journalism and started teaching it. Not a day had gone by when she hadn't congratulated herself on her decision. Now, thanks to the "publish or be damned" demands of her boss at Santa Cruz, she'd been catapulted into her past life. A persuasive editor had talked her into a publishing contract for a book on the decline of British tabloid journalism from 1980 to 1995. It was supposed simultaneously to be a penetrating political analysis and an entertaining romp for the general reader. "Define oxymoron," Lindsay muttered as her machine booted up with its usual mechanical grumbles. "The demands of a publisher's editor. On the one hand, deep and insightful. On the other hand, shallow and superficial."
Today, the Falklands conflict. Not the battles between the Argentinian and British soldiery, but the rows that raged between government censors and militant journalists betrayed by proprietors who caved in under pressure. And the Sun's shameful "Gotcha!" headline on the sinking of the Belgrano. It was more than enough to keep her absorbed in her screen until late afternoon, apart from a quick break at noon to walk Mutton around the scrubland and eat a chicken Caesar salad.
By five, she'd had enough. Whistling the dog, Lindsay had fired up her battered black Caddie and headed inland to a grocery store a few miles away that carried a stock select enough to satisfy the most discriminating California foodie. Lindsay's freezer was empty of bread, and she needed to stock up on ciabatta with olives, with artichokes, with sundried tomatoes and just plain. The challenge was always to get it home without tearing lumps out of it en route. While she was there, she raided the deli counter for grazing material for the evening. It was that once-a-month night when Sophie would be out with her doctor friends putting the world to rights, so Lindsay could veg out on the sofa and watch the Inspector Morse episode she'd taped the week before, with occasional trips to the kitchen to stack up another plate of nibbles. Bliss.
Her plans died when she got back to the house and finally got round to opening the morning paper. She idly flicked over the front page, breaking off a piece of artichoke ciabatta. Darkliners Author Dies in Freak Accident seemed to separate itself from the rest of page three and rise towards her like a macabre magic carpet.
"No," Lindsay breathed as she started to read.
Penny Varnavides, best-selling author of the Darkliners series of novels, died yesterday as the result of a freak accident while on a trip to England. She was killed when a bottle of beer exploded in the kitchen of the apartment in London, where she was living temporarily.
The body was discovered by a neighbor, alerted by the open door of her apartment. It is thought Ms Varnavides had just returned home when the accident occurred.
According to police sources in London, Ms Varnavides bled to death when a shard of glass from the explosion penetrated her carotid artery. The unusually prolonged hot summer weather this year in England, where some areas have not had rain for over five weeks, is being blamed for the accident.
A police officer said, "The beer in question was apparently a kind which contains live yeast. In the warm weather, it must have started a secondary fermentation, and so the pressure inside the bottle would have increased enormously. The slightest vibration could have triggered the resulting explosion.
"It was a freak accident. Ms Varnavides was alone when it happened. If someone else had been present, it's possible she might have survived. But there are no suspicious circumstances."
Ms Varnavides was in London to complete research on her latest book, said to be a departure from her award-winning Darkliners series of fantasy novels for adolescent readers. She was rumored to be working closely with her British publishers, Monarch Press, on a "women in jeopardy" thriller aimed at the adult audience.
A member of the Monarch editorial team said, "We're all devastated by Penny's death. She was in the office only hours before she died. It's a tragic loss."
Ms Varnavides, 42, grew up in Chicago and studied at Northwestern and Stanford. After graduating, she worked in the computer industry. Her debut Darkliners novel, The Magicking of Danny Armstrong, was first published in England because she couldn't find a US publisher. But its runaway success was repeated all over the world and she became a full-time novelist ten years ago. She was unmarried and lived in San Francisco.
The apartment where the tragedy took place is the home of a British academic who exchanged it with Ms Varnavides' duplex in Noe Valley for the summer.
The piece of bread never made it to her mouth. Lindsay sat down suddenly on a kitchen chair and reread the article, tears pricking her eyes. Mutton slumped against her leg, butting his head against her sympathetically. Lindsay's hand went to the dog's head in an automatic movement, rubbing her fingers over the silky ears. Her other hand traced the outline of the newsprint. Penny was dead.
The tears spilled over and trickled down Lindsay's cheeks. Less than five weeks before, Penny had been sitting on their deck knocking back Sierra Nevada amber ale and bemoaning the end of her relationship with Meredith Miller, the woman she'd been seeing for the previous five years. It had been a shocking conversation. If anyone had asked Lindsay who were the couple most likely to make it work, she'd have answered without hesitation, "Meredith and Penny." They'd always seemed entirely compatible, a marriage of equals. Even Penny's need to remain in the closet because of her huge market among teenagers in middle America hadn't been a bone of contention; it was matched by Meredith's own requirements. A computer scientist with a defence contractor, she had top-secret clearance, a grading she'd lose immediately her sexuality became known to her professionally paranoid bosses.
The two women had shared a tall Victorian house that had been divided into a duplex; Meredith lived in the two lower floors, Penny above. But the terraced garden at the back was common, allowing them to move freely from one section of the house to the other without being overlooked. So they'd effectively lived together, while maintaining the fiction of being nothing more than friends. In San Francisco, Lindsay had realised a long time ago, it wasn't always easy to tell who were lovers and who merely friends. It was so easy to be out that everyone assumed anyone who wasn't had to be straight and sadly lacking a partner.
Although it had been clear from the tone of the conversation that it had been Penny who had given Meredith her marching orders, she had spoken with deep regret about the ending of the relationship. "She left me with no choice," she'd said sadly, head leaning against Sophie's shoulder as Lindsay tended the barbecue. "Right from the start, we always had borderlines, you know? We had common concepts of what was acceptable in a relationship and what wasn't. Fidelity was an absolute. She must have known she was leaving me no option, doing what she did." She took another pull on her beer and stared into the sunset.
"Maybe she was testing you," Lindsay had tried.
"I don't think so," Penny said. "I think she was in self-destruct mode. And you can't stop somebody who's that determined."
"No, but you don't have to give them a shove in the wrong direction," Lindsay muttered, knowing she wouldn't be heard over the hissing of the marinade she'd just used to baste the salmon.
By the end of the evening, Penny had had enough bottles of the dark golden ale for Sophie to insist she stayed the night and Lindsay had had enough of Penny's grief to slip away on the excuse of checking her e-mail. "Tactless toerag," Sophie had muttered as she'd slid into bed beside her later.
"How can I be tactless from my study?" Lindsay asked plaintively.
"Have you forgotten who taught you to be computer literate? Who showed you how to surf the Internet?"
"Oops," Lindsay said.
"Oops is right. You going off to collect your e-mail was the signal for Penny to slide right over into maudlin tears and reminisce about Meredith turning the lesbian community cyberpunk."
"But only if they let her wear a bag over her head," Lindsay responded. "You know, I couldn't do a job where I had to stay in the closet."
"No," Sophie sighed. "You have many fine qualities, Lindsay, but discretion isn't even in the top forty."
And now Penny was dead. Lindsay kept staring at the newspaper. She had no idea what to do next. She supposed she should call Meredith in San Francisco, but she didn't have any enthusiasm for it. It wasn't that she didn't want to be supportive, rather that she knew she was more use at the practical rather than the emotional side of things. In their partnership, it was Sophie who did emotional support.
Impatient with herself, Lindsay wiped the tears from her face. She'd take the dog for his evening run, then she'd call Meredith. "Penny would have taken the piss mercilessly," she told Mutton as she walked up to the bedroom and changed into her running uniform of shorts, T-shirt and cross-trainers. "'Whatever happened to the tough journalist?' she'd have said. 'Thought you could face out anybody? You scared of a bit of raw emotion, Lindsay?' She'd have been a proper monkey on my back, dog," she added as Mutton licked her knee.
Lindsay jogged up the street, then cut across towards the beach, avoiding the wiry grasses that would whip her legs raw within minutes. Once on the sand, she headed for the water's edge, turned her back on Pillar Point and let her rhythm gradually build to a place where it became a part of her she didn't have to think about. There were fewer people than usual on the beach that evening but Lindsay didn't notice. Penny Varnavides was at the centre of her mind's eye, caught in a slo-mo memory replay, playing beach volleyball with Lindsay, Sophie, Meredith and half a dozen other women last Easter. Lindsay could see the ponytail of glossy black hair switch across Penny's tanned shoulders as she leapt for the ball, the sun glinting on dark eyes and white teeth as she soared into the sky, fingers stretched to the limit to nudge the ball upwards again for one of her teammates to sweep back over the net.
Never again, Lindsay thought, bitter and sad. Next time they all trooped down to the beach, they'd be one short.
Although she wasn't consciously checking out her surroundings, part of Lindsay's mind was on alert. Her evening routine with the dog had been going on sufficiently long for her to be familiar with other locals who ran or walked by the ocean. A stranger was enough in itself to register with her. A stranger walking a north-westerly line that looked as if it were chosen to intersect inevitably with her southerly one was enough to take her mind momentarily off Penny. Lindsay slowed slightly and stared at the approaching figure.
A woman. Height around five six, hair shoulder length and mid-brown. A large leather satchel slung over one hip. Shorts, lightweight shirt and sandals, but the skin too pale to be a Californian. Mutton bounded up to the woman, barking cheerfully. At once, she stopped and crouched to pat him. "English," Lindsay grunted to herself. She slowed till she was barely faster than walking pace. The woman looked up, met her eyes and straightened up. By then, only a dozen yards separated them.
"Lindsay Gordon." It was a statement, not a question. Two words were enough to confirm Lindsay's presumption that those pale limbs didn't belong to an American. Mutton dropped on to his stomach on the sand, head down between his front paws.
Lindsay paused, hands on hips, breathing slightly harder than she needed to. If she was going to have to take off, better that the other woman thought she was more tired than she was. "You have the advantage of me, then," she said, a frosty imitation of Mel Gibson's proud Scottish dignity in Braveheart.
"Meredith Miller sent me. I ... I'm afraid I have some bad news."
The accent was Estuary English. It had never been one of Lindsay's favourites, always reminding her of spivvy Tory MPs on the make. Distance hadn't lent it enchantment. She wiped away the sweat that had sprung out on her upper lip. She cocked her head to one side and said, "I know Penny's dead, if that's what you mean. It made the papers. Who are you?"
The woman opened her satchel and Lindsay rose on to the balls of her feet, ready for fight or flight. The past she'd tried so hard to bury in California had conditioned her responses more than she liked to admit. Especially when she was dealing with people with English accents. But nothing more threatening than a business card emerged from the bag. Lindsay took it and read, "DGM Investigations. Sandra Bloom, senior operative." There was an address with an East London postcode that would have rendered the whole card a joke before Canary Wharf started to fill up. Now, it signalled that Sandra Bloom's company thought they were out at the leading edge of private investigation, light years away from the bottle of bourbon and the trilby.
"DGM?" Lindsay asked.
Sandra Bloom's mouth twisted in a wince. "Don't get mad?"
Lindsay nodded. "Must have seemed like a good idea at the time. So what's all this about, Ms Bloom? What are you doing here? What's your connection to Meredith? And why are we standing in the middle of a beach when we live in a world that has more phones, faxes and modems than hot dinners?"
Sandra looked faintly embarrassed. "I don't know exactly what it is that Ms Miller does for a living ..."
Lindsay interrupted with a snort of ironic laughter. "Join a very large club."
"... but whatever it is, it's made her rather paranoid about normal methods of communication," she continued regardless.
Lindsay nodded. "Right. I remember the lecture. Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, England. One of the biggest listening posts in the world, run to all intents and purposes by the US government. Who routinely monitor phone calls, faxes and computer traffic. I've always found it hard to get my head round the idea. I mean, the sheer volume of it. Some days I don't have time to read my own e-mail. The thought of ploughing through everybody else's ... Anyway, yeah, it's starting to make sense. Okay, I understand why Meredith wouldn't want to entrust anything sensitive to any form of telecommunication. And given the news in today's paper, I don't have to be what's-her-name with the crystal ball on the national lottery to figure out it must be something to do with Penny. So what's going on?"
Sandra pushed her hair back from her face in what was clearly a regular time-buying gesture. "Ms Miller and her lawyer have sent me over from London ..."
"Hang on a minute," Lindsay butted in again. "What's with the 'lawyer' bit? I didn't even know Meredith was in London, never mind that she'd got herself a lawyer."
"Ms Miller has a lawyer because she seems to think she's about to become the police's number one suspect in their inquiry into the murder of Penny Varnavides," Sandra blurted out in a rush, clearly deciding it was the only way to tell Lindsay anything without interruption.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Booked for Murder and Hostage to Murder"
Copyright © 1996 Val McDermid.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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