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Early one morning at St. Anselm's church in Philadelphia, a parishioner sneaks the body of his dead wife into the sacristy and commits suicide. His wife, a severe diabetic, is assumed to have died of natural causes - until the coroner discovers arsenic poisoning. The police are sure her husband was responsible, but one of the nuns at St. Anselm's doesn't and asks Gregor Demarkian, retired head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, to investigate. With tensions mounting among the city's religious groups, Demarkian's lover Bennis undergoing a crisis of her own, and the denizens of Demarkian's Armenian-American neighborhood - Cavanaugh Street - involved in various uproars of their own, Demarkian is facing the most difficult case of his career.
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Jane Haddam is the author of numerous articles and books, including sixteen previous mysteries featuring Gregor Demarkian, most recently Skeleton Key. Her work has been a finalist for both the Edgar and the Anthony Awards. She lives with her two sons in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
PART ONEGod is expensive, but he has very good taste.--SHIRLEY CURRYONE1For Gregor Demarkian, for most of his life, the inevitable end of a successful criminal investigation did not exist. He had been called into court from time to time to testify to something he had seen or heard or analyzed. When he had been a special agent for the FBI, he had been called to court particularly in kidnapping cases. Later, when he was head of the Behavioral Sciences Unit, he had watched other men go to court in his stead. Behavioral Sciences dealt with serial killers, and they went to court far more often than kidnappers did. Gregor had a theory about that, eventually. It was that murderers were almost always entirely self-absorbed. A kidnapper was after money. When he failed to get it, when his plans went haywire and he found himself in custody, his primary objective was to save his skin. If a decent plea bargain would do that, he would take it. Murderers were different. Somebody who killed in the heat of the moment might be willing to listen to reason when he was arrested and in jail, but the kind of murderer who planned it almost never was. That kind of murderer wanted to star in his own movie, to be the focus and center of attention, to have all the world's cameras trained on him. He wanted people to know how shimmeringly brilliant he had been, even though that knowledge would send him to the electric chair or the gas chamber or, as was more and more often the case now, a hospital gurney with rubber restraints and a lethal injection. Gregor sometimes wondered if they liked it, all the way to the end, the ceremony and solemnness of it. He wasn't sure, because this was the part he didn't know about. His objections to capital punishment were moral and practical. Hehad seen exactly one execution, and he had never been interested in seeing another. He only thought that the old line from Dr. Johnson was not entirely accurate. The prospect of hanging might work wonderfully to concentrate the mind for some people, but for others it only heightened the sense of specialness, of being a chosen instrument, of being the next best thing to God.Now he padded into the living room and confirmed his suspicion that Bennis was, indeed, asleep on the couch. She had curled up into a ball against the leather, with one of his own robes bunched up under her head for a pillow. The television was on and turned slightly on its stand so that she could face it directly while lying down. The morning news was playing, with another story about the suicide of that young man at St. Anselm's Church. Gregor frowned slightly--it had been over a week; the fuss and fumbling had gone on far too long--and wandered back down the hall to his own bedroom to get dressed. His hair was still wet from his shower. His neck was cold. Outside the big living-room window, the world was mostly dark. Sometimes it seemed to him impossible to figure out what to do in these situations. He almost never knew what to do about Bennis at all. Everything he did do was somehow off--not wrong, exactly, but not really right. He wondered if he ought to be satisfied that, in the mess this had become, she had not started smoking again--but he had a feeling that that had more to do with Bennis's fundamental stubbornness than with him.Suddenly, on a whim--no, more on a premonition--he went back to the living room to check on her again. He was wearing his boxer shorts and his socks and his shirt and his tie, but the tie was still hanging around his neck like a scarf. He was all too aware of the fact that his big window had no curtain. If Lida Arkmanian happened to come to her window across the street at just this moment, she would catch him in his shorts. The trick was that Lida would not come to her window. She always had her breakfast coffee in her kitchen, which was on the ground floor in the back. Gregor looked at Bennis and hesitated. He had no idea what he had intended to do when he got there. Bennis had not moved. The coffee table she had pulled up next to the couch was littered with debris, but it was the debris of somebody who had stayed up all nightto watch the creature features: a coffee cup still half-full; an open bag of Chee-tos, barely touched; a half dozen crumpled paper napkins that looked as if they had been used to wipe up spills. Bennis looked haggard and half-dead, the way she did most of the time these days, but at least she had gotten out of her clothes and put on an oversize T-shirt. A half dozen times over the past three weeks, Gregor had found her still in her knee socks and clogs. He had been able to tell by the dirt on her soles that she had been out walking again.The invitation from the state was not on the coffee table. That, Gregor realized, was what he had been looking for. In the beginning, when they had first sat down with Anne Marie's lawyer and he had outlined just how final the situation had become, Bennis had carried that damned invitation with her everywhere, as if she needed it to identify who she was. It hadn't helped that the governor of Pennsylvania had gone on the air three times in ten days to assure the people of Pennsylvania that this time justice would be done. Anne Marie Hannaford might have escaped execution over and over again for the past ten years, but she wouldn't escape it one more time. There were no more appeals left to try, no more avenues left to explore. The only chance she had was an order of clemency from the governor's office, and the governor had no intention of issuing one."Do you think she's evil?" Bennis had asked him, one afternoon, out of the blue, when they had been wandering through a department store looking for a bright red scarf to buy Donna Moradanyan Donahue for her birthday.It had been the oddest scene: the department-store aisles flanked by counters and shelves full of things that all seemed to be made of something metallic in silver or gold; Bennis in her shop-for-something-expensive uniform of Calvin Klein coat and two-and-a-half inch stacked-heel boots; himself trying desperately not to meet the eyes of saleswomen who had nothing to do in a store that was practically empty. Before Bennis spoke, Gregor had been feeling guilty. Now that they were officially a "couple," they were expected to buy their presents together--but didn't that shortchange the people they were buying presents for? Surely Donna deserved a present from each of them, the way she had every year before. At Christmas, Gregor had had to restrain himself from runningout at the last minute and buying another whole set of Christmas presents. If he hadn't been sure that Bennis--already pumped up beyond belief from nicotine deprivation--would have killed him, he would have done it. But things had been better, then. That was before the new date of execution had been set. Anne Marie's lawyers were still in court. It still looked as if there might be a chance.Bennis was holding a red scarf in her hands. Gregor would have thought it was just what they were looking for, but he could tell from the way she was fingering it that she didn't like it."I don't think 'evil' is a very useful word," he said finally. "I think she's dangerous. I don't think she ought to be walking around loose. I think, under the right circumstances, she would probably do it again.""I want to know if you think she should be dead.""I never think anybody should be dead," Gregor said. "No, I take that back. There was one person, just one, whom I thought ought to be executed. I'm putting that badly. In that one case, I thought execution was justified. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, whether or not I think she ought to be dead doesn't mean very much.""Well, it won't change anything, but that wasn't what I was getting at." Bennis bunched the scarf into a ball and threw it back on the display table. Gregor could see the saleswomen watching her. She was such a prime target: obviously rich, and obviously used to it. He wondered if she was even seeing the scarves anymore, of if they had wandered into a more urgent area of her mind, the part where she had to solve the problems of the universe, now, immediately, without excuses. It was a part of the mind that usually atrophied after adolescence, but the withered organ never disappeared. Gregor knew that from experience, too.They got to another set of shelves and another set of scarves. Bennis seemed to like this set more. She passed up the solid red one to look at one with red-and-grey stripes. She wound it around and around her hands and nodded slightly."Pashmina," she said finally. "You don't usually see it in patterns.""What's pashmina?""A kind of cashmere." She handed the scarf to Gregor.Gregor noticed that the scarf was both softer and longer than the ones he was used to. Then he looked at the price tag: $278."Good God," he said.Bennis took the scarf from him and headed for the nearest counter. Saleswomen probably got commissions on the things they sold. Whoever ended up with Bennis was going to have a very good sales day."What I want to know," Bennis said finally, "is what I should think about it. It's not as if we were ever close. I don't think Anne Marie has ever been close to anyone.""Yes," Gregor said. "That's the point.""I know. And there's what she did. Which was horrible. Beyond horrible. But I still don't know what I should think about it. Maybe it's because she's my sister, still my sister, you know what I mean. In spite of everything. Even in spite of the fact that we never really liked each other. Maybe I'd feel the same way about the execution of anybody I'd ever known.""People do, you know. It's almost impossible for a psychologically normal person to kill someone he can see as fully human. That's why, when there's a movement to stop an execution, there's so much time taken to make the convicted murderer seem human. Think about the Karla Faye Tucker case in Texas. It hurt to see her die in the end because she had become real to so many of us. She wasn't a name and a story. She was a person."Bennis had found a counter. She folded up the scarf and put it down. The saleswoman was there in a blink, gurgling incoherently. Gregor didn't think Bennis heard a word she said."There's something else," Bennis told him. "I thought I might as well warn you. The state of Pennsylvania sent invitations to my brothers and to Dickie Van Damm.""And?""Chris is going to come out and stay with Lida. I don't know about the other two. I don't even know where Bobby is. And as for Teddy--" She shrugged."I like your brother Chris. I'll be glad to see him.""Yes, well, the thing is, he may not be the only person you see. I've got it on good authority that Dickie is going to witnessthe execution. That he's going to--be there. In the peanut gallery. Or whatever you call it.""Ah.""If he's there, he won't leave us alone. You must know that. We'll see him. He'll come out to Cavanaugh Street. He'll make a nuisance of himself somehow. In person, I suppose I mean. Anyway, that's what I've heard.""Ah," Gregor said.The saleswoman was no idiot. She could see that Bennis wanted to talk to Gregor and not listen to her enthuse about the scarf or about the wonders of pashmina. She interrupted only once--to ask if Bennis would like a gift box--and as soon as she had a positive answer went about her work with silent efficiency. The gift box was red and came with a white satin ribbon. Valentine's Day was only a few days away."You know," Gregor said, "I don't think you really have to worry about Dickie Van Damm. He's a nuisance and a damned fool, but he's not dangerous to you, or to anybody except when he's driving drunk. And I've heard he doesn't do that anymore.""He hired a driver.""There, then."The saleswoman handed back Bennis's credit card and then handed over the box. Bennis tucked the box under her arm and walked away. Halfway down the aisle to the back door, she stopped."It's just that it's going to be such a mess," she said desperately. "It would have been a mess under any circumstances, but you know what he's like. He'll be all over the news. He'll make a celebration of it. The dim-witted little prick.""Yes," Gregor said--and now, all this time later, he said "yes" again, out loud to the air in his bedroom. Then he tightened the belt around his pants and slipped his feet into the penny loafers Bennis had bought to replace his standard FBI wing tips. It still felt strange to him that he didn't have to bend over to tie his shoes. He still didn't understand why the shoes didn't just fall off his feet, without laces to hold them on.He went back out to the living room. Bennis was still sleeping. The news was still on. Now it seemed to be about puppy mills, somewhere in Bucks County. Gregor leaned over the coffee table and turned it off.Bennis coughed in her sleep, and moved. Gregor got the throw blanket from the back of the couch and tossed it over her. He didn't think she had actually slept in a bed since that interview with the lawyer, and she didn't look as if she were about to start sleeping in a bed anytime soon.Ages ago, when Gregor was just out of the Army and engaged to Elizabeth, he had thought he knew what love was. Surely, when Elizabeth was sick, in those last awful years, he actually had known what it was. He would never have been able to stay with her, and to help her, if he had not loved her. Duty would not have been enough. Even so, this time around and with Bennis, he felt as if he didn't know anything at all. She was such a complicated person. There were so many twists and turns and secrets to her body and her soul. He knew he would have been wrong to think that her life had been easy merely because it had mostly been rich--but he thought that that was what he must have thought, deep down, until very recently. Now he wanted to run the palm of his hand over her cheek, to feel the smoothness of it, to feel the heat. Sometimes it seemed to him as if his love for her reduced itself to these things: the visceral; the physical; the couldn't-be-put-into-words. It surprised him, really. He had never been a primarily physical person, but his response to Bennis was intensely so, and so insistently present that he found himself coming to in stores and on street corners with the smell of her wrapped around him like a cloak.The throw blanket didn't cover anywhere near as much of her as Gregor would have liked, but there was nothing he could do about it but stretch it smooth in the corners. He did that and then planted a kiss on her forehead. She neither moved nor spoke. He backed away into his front hall and got his coat. They'd been through a lot together over the last however many years, and they would get through this.Still, Gregor thought, I'd be happier if I wasn't about to be the one responsible for the death of her oldest living sister.2It was later, sitting in the Ararat over coffee and eggs, that Gregor realized there was something he could do about whatwas going to happen. He couldn't do anything about the execution itself, about the fact of it or its timing. He couldn't even do anything about Dickie Van Damm, who was supposed to be the grieving widower of Bennis's sister Myra--although he doubted if Dickie could hold a single emotion for the space of ten years, never mind a single thought. His mind flitted back and forth through the ...
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