Nora Baron’s life is perfect. She lives on Long Island Sound, teaches acting at a local university, and has a loving family. Then one phone call changes everything. She’s informed that her husband, Jeff, has died in a car crash while on a business trip in England. Nora flies to London to identify the body, which the police have listed as a “John Doe.” When she leaves the morgue, a man tries to steal her purse containing Jeff’s personal effects. Clearly, all is not as it seems.
At her hotel, Nora receives a cryptic message that leaves her with more questions than answers. She follows the message’s instructions to France, where a fatal encounter transforms her into a fugitive. Wanted for murder, on the run in a shadowy landscape of lies, secrets, and sudden violence, Mrs. “John Doe” must play the role of a lifetime to stay one step ahead of a ruthless enemy with deadly plans for her—and for the world.
Praise for Mrs. John Doe
“This is a rare spy thriller, smart, beautifully written, and stay-up-all-night enjoyable!”—Gayle Lynds, New York Times bestselling author of The Assassins
“It isn’t easy to blindside a fellow suspense author, but Tom Savage manages to fool me every time. A clever, compelling, and cinematic page-turner in which nothing is as it seems, Mrs. John Doe opens with a twist I didn’t see coming and closes with a satisfying bang. This longtime Savage fan ranks Mrs. John Doe right up there with Precipice.”—Wendy Corsi Staub, New York Times bestselling author of The Black Widow
“Mrs. John Doe races a fictional path somewhere between Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, a modern heroine-on-the-run spy thriller dealing with some of our time’s deadliest challenges.”—James Grady, New York Times bestselling author of Last Days of the Condor
“Savage twists the plot in two startling ways, and Nora’s transformation from wealthy home-focused wife to clever investigator holds up brilliantly. . . . I enjoyed each page, gasped at the swift twists, and came away with a hunger for more of the same, whether it be thrills, France, or books by Tom Savage.”—Kingdom Books
Read an Excerpt
She was standing on the widow’s walk when the call came. It was an appropriate place to be, all things considered, but Nora Baron didn’t usually think in terms of irony. Only later would she see the awful humor in it.
She and Jeff used to spend a lot of time up here when they first moved in twenty-one years ago. Cocktails at sunset, gazing out at Long Island Sound as it slowly darkened, chatting about their day at work before going downstairs, hand in hand, to the dinner she’d proudly prepared for them. They had a party up here once, a spring afternoon, with two of her colleagues from Stony Brook University and one of his from the electronics business. Otherwise, it was always just family, enjoying their private sanctuary at the top of the house. Nude sunbathing!
Well, only a couple of times, that first summer when they were still officially newlyweds, and never after Dana was born. More recently, Dana came up here with her friends from college. Nora hoped they kept their clothes on.
Thinking of her daughter brought a smile. Dana had turned twenty in February, and she’d just completed her sophomore year. She was at NYU, not Stony Brook; she’d chosen the theater department at Nora’s alma mater over the university where Nora was now an acting teacher. But she was following Nora to the footlights just the same, another actor in the family.
A breeze from the Sound ruffled her hair, and Nora grasped the wooden railing that ringed the platform and leaned into the sunset. She loved the fresh, salty tang of the open water, the perfume of her sunburned youth. She’d been for a swim earlier, while Mrs. Ramirez was cleaning, and there’d been quite a few neighbors about, lounging and jogging. Nora had plenty of time to swim these days, with Jeff working in England and Dana now living in Greenwich Village, and no classes to teach until September. It wasn’t even July yet.
The sky above the water was the deep, almost shocking shade of late afternoon blue that always filled her with a sense of contentment. There was no one on the beach beyond the grassy dunes at this hour, only two seagulls pecking in the sand near the water’s edge. Well, the smaller one was pecking, foraging for food, while the larger one circled it, hopping up and down and squawking. As she watched, a big wave crashed near the birds, startling them. They took off with angry cries and a flurry of wings, skittering away down the shore . . .
And the telephone rang.
It was the landline in the bedroom below her. Her cell was in her pocket; her daughter had programmed it to blare a rousing chorus of Ethel Merman shrieking “There’s No Business Like Show Business” whenever anyone called. The cellphone was pretty much family only, so this caller wouldn’t be Jeff or Dana. She went over to the roof door and down the narrow staircase to the upstairs hallway.
As she entered the master bedroom, she noted with approval that Mrs. Ramirez had changed the sheets and vacuumed. The mirror above her dresser gleamed from the Windex, reflecting a tall, slender woman of Irish descent with nice green eyes, good cheekbones, and shoulder-length chestnut hair. The color was professionally applied, hiding many gray strands; she wasn’t yet ready to admit that she was closing in on fifty. The slenderness was due to all the swimming, and to yoga and Pilates, not to mention overseeing armies of boisterous students. She sat on the bed and picked up the phone from the night table. “Hello?”
The mild static suggested an overseas call, even before she heard the plummy accent and cultured tones of her husband’s British business associate.
“Nora, it’s Bill Howard.”
“Hi, Bill! How nice to hear from you. How are you?”
A pause, then a breath. “I—I—Oh, Nora, I don’t know how to tell you this. I’m afraid I have some very bad news. Is—is anyone there with you?”
“No, I’m alone here. Why do you ask? What is it, Bill? What’s wrong?”
More ragged breathing. Then “I’m so sorry, Nora. It’s—it’s Jeff. He’s been in an accident. He’s dead.”
She heard the words, and they registered; she understood. Something happened inside her, a sudden feeling that she was on a stage and they were speaking lines that had been written by a playwright. She gripped the receiver carefully in her hand and spoke slowly, distinctly, so the audience could hear.
“How, Bill? How did it happen?”
“He was in one of my company’s cars in Kensington, on Holland Park Avenue. He seems to have swerved off the road and struck a wall. He—he was gone by the time the emergency people got to him. I’m so sorry. I’ve only just learned of it myself. It happened yesterday evening.”
“You’ve only just learned of it?” Nora was aware that she was still enunciating everything carefully. She didn’t sound like herself; she sounded like a character in the play she was performing. She wondered if this was a symptom of shock.
“Yes, that’s the odd thing about it. It seems he didn’t have anything on him, any identifying cards or papers. Nothing in his wallet but money, and pictures of you and your daughter. The police didn’t know who he was until they traced the car to us. I—I went to the morgue and, um, identified him. I’m just now back from there.”
The woman she was playing said, “Was anyone else hurt? Was he—”
“He was alone in the car, and no other cars were involved, so far as they know. None that stopped, at any rate . . .”
She weighed those last six words. “What are you saying, Bill? Do they have reason to believe it was anything other than an accident?”
Bill Howard gasped; that’s how it sounded, anyway, and his voice trembled with emotion. “Oh, Nora, I don’t really know anything at this point. I think you must—you must . . .” He was Jeff’s longtime friend and colleague, she reminded herself, and he was floundering, apparently searching for words in his own distress.
“I’ll come,” she heard herself say. “I’ll get a seat on the soonest flight.”
Now he seemed to pull himself together, and his voice took on a clipped, authoritative tone. “Let us do that for you, Nora. My assistant can handle all the business with the flights—”
“No,” she said. “No, thank you, Bill. I must—I’d rather be doing something. I’ll call you as soon as I know when I’m arriving.”
“We’ll book you in the Savoy—”
“No, nothing big. That little place in Gower Street where we usually stay.” We. She and Jeff . . .
“The Byron,” Bill said. “We’ll handle that, at least. Let me know your flight, and I’ll meet you at Heathrow. I’m so very sorry, Nora.”
She winced; she would have to get used to that sentiment. “Thank you, Bill, for—for being so kind.” She hung up before he could say anything more.
The bedroom was dark now. The receiver missed the cradle on the table and fell silently to the carpet. A car accident. She’d often wondered how it would be, what news she might hear. Jeff traveled so much with his business. But she’d never thought of a car accident. A plane, maybe . . .
A plane. The character she was playing took over once more. Nora Baron shut her eyes for a moment and listened to the silence in her house, in her body, in her mind. Then she opened her eyes, switched on the bedside lamp, picked up the receiver from the floor, and called the airline.