INTRODUCING SENIOR DETECTIVE TESSA VANCE
When a young barker at a seaside amusement park is found dead with a steak knife plunged into his gut, Senior Detective Tessa Vance is called to investigate. Assigned to an unfamiliar Homicide division and having to win the trust of a new partner, Tessa soon discovers a grisly trail of bodies with nothing in common except for a series of gruesome clues left behind by a ruthlessly clever killer.
Tessa knows the deaths form a hideous pattern. But once she and her partner decipher its shocking secret, they find themselves in a race against time--fast approaching a deadline set by a cunning, murderous mind. . . .
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In her native Australia, Jennifer Rowe is widely recognized as an acclaimed novelist and a former editor of The Australian Women's Weekly. Before creating the Tessa Vance series, she wrote four crime novels featuring TV researcher Verity "Birdie Birdwood as well as several nonseries novels of suspense. Ms. Rowe has been called the "Agatha Christie of Australia --and with good reason; she shares Dame Agatha's passion for complex, puzzle-driven stories populated by vividly depicted heroes, suspects, and villains.
Under the name Emily Rodda, Jennifer Rowe has also written stories for children--five of which have won the (Australian) Children's Book of the Year Award.
The man in the skeleton suit was sweating, skulking in the darkness. The darkness was thick with the smells of metal, people, paint, and dust, and the all-pervading tang of salt and dry seaweed that penetrated even here. The darkness was filled with sound. The dull rattling of the ghost train cars on the rails. Echoing wails and groans. The raucous screams and laughter of the customers.
A car rounded a corner and rattled towards him. It slowed, stopped. Inside it, a chubby girl, giggling, jiggling in a tight, low-cut pink knit top, clutched at a thin youth. The youth was leering, leaning back, his arms spread wide across each side of the seat back. Big man.
The skeleton-man waited. The darkness veiled him. Except for the glimmering white-painted bones, the hideous skull face gleaming.
"It's so dark! Oh, why have we stopped? Ooh, what if it's broken down?" tittered the girl, squeezing closer, scrabbling at the youth's shirt front. "Ooh, look at the skeleton!"
"It's just a dummy. What's wrong with ya?" the boy sniggered. He could feel one of her breasts pushing against his chest. Smell the perfume that rose from her warm, slightly damp skin in waves. He knew what she was after.
Still, still the skeleton stood. Like a dummy. Like a painted image.
The girl was closest to him. They always put the girls in the danger seat. He focused on the side of her plump, white neck, where the thin line of a gold chain clung. There. Just there.
With a jerk the car began moving again. Slowly, slowly. It was level with him now. It was almost past ... Now!
He caught a glimpse of his own glowing bony arm, the nightmare clawing hand, as he stretched forward and brushed the girl's soft, folded flesh.
The girl screamed--a high-pitched shriek of pure terror. The thin youth swore violently. The car rattled on.
Sucked in, the skeleton-man thought. Cretins.
He drew back from the rails once more. Another car emerged from the darkness. Slowed. Stopped. It was empty. Stupidly gaping. But still it waited, for him to scare it. To lunge forward and touch, and wait for the scream.
An empty car. Customers must be thinning out, he thought. It must be nearly closing time. He had no watch. He had no sense of time in here. He could have been standing in this spot for minutes, hours, centuries, smelling the heat, hearing the sounds.
The empty car jerked and rattled past him. Because it was empty it rocked slightly on the rails. There was a wad of sickly-green bubble gum stuck to its torn seat. That was probably why no one had taken it. So maybe it wasn't near to closing time after all.
He felt overwhelmingly, absurdly disappointed. Thinking the shift was nearly over had made him suddenly frantic to be gone. He was conscious of a headache starting--a dull, bored heaviness pressing down, and spreading. There was no air in here. The Lycra suit clung to him like a clammy second skin. He was sweating like a pig.
He wished himself far away. Not just outside in the fun fair, all fake, all front, its screens of flimsy brightly painted wood masking the truth of it: grinding machinery, cynical men, and money tins. Not with the gabbling, hyperactive crowds, trailing home along the promenade after yet another failed night in search of something to make them feel they were really alive.
He wanted to be somewhere clean and open, with a breeze.
A beach, maybe. But not this sort of beach. Not a city beach, its flaccid waves and mean strip of sand hemmed in by a low concrete retaining wall, with flat, exhausted grass and roasting car parks beyond. Not a place with a bloody promenade lined with takeaways, cafes, supermarkets, and souvenir shops, litter bins and trees in little cages and crawling with kids and fat old guys in baggy swimsuits and snooty girls who acted like you were shit.
But a real beach. A beach that made you feel you were at the edge of forever. With waves swelling, breaking, froth hissing as it ran up thick, yellow sand.
If he had the money, he could get up the coast. Go on the dole. Drop out for a while.
Plenty of people did it. He could do it. He didn't even need much money. It was Monday night now. He'd get his pay on Thursday. There'd be a bit extra on top, this week. He could leave the next morning. He could hitch up the coast. Or maybe he'd go south. Might be cooler, down south. He could stop somewhere--anywhere he liked. Sleep on the beach. Just use the money for food ... He could do that. There'd be others there ...
Another car drew up in front of him. This time he' d hardly noticed it rounding the corner. Like the last car, it was empty. His heart lifted. He'd been right after all. Soon, then. Very soon ...
His thoughts drifted back to his beach, his plans. He was just imagining the clean-skinned, long-haired girl, not too tall, who'd drop her towel next to his on the sand and tell him her name, when the cord slipped round his neck and jerked him backwards.
He gurgled once, fought briefly. Then there was only the sound of harsh breathing in his ear, and the terror, and the futile struggle for air, and life, and the blackness closing in.
As soon as the pager sounded, Tessa Vance knew. Knew what it meant. But still, as she crossed the room to turn it off, ring in, the glass of mineral water warming in her hand, Brett's eyes on her, she pleaded with fate.
Don't let it be that. Not now. Not tonight. Let it be something else. A reminder. A meeting for tomorrow. Something I forgot to do today. Steve Hayden, back at work tomorrow, wanting to introduce himself beforehand. Anything. Anything ...
Her stomach knotted as she punched in the numbers.
But the voice at the other end of the line was the voice she had expected all along. In an odd sort of way, it was a relief. At least she didn't have to fear it any more.
Tessa listened to the voice, staring at the windows though there was nothing to see. The long curtains were drawn to shut out the city and the night. The curtains were a pale gold color. She'd wanted something lighter. Brett had wanted something brighter. Finally they'd settled on the gold. The curtains were a year and a half old now. She'd hoped they might fade a bit, but they hadn't.
The room smelled of roses, dinner cooked and waiting, the perfume Brett had given her. Glenn Miller was playing.
The voice stopped giving information, asked a question.
"Yes, I know it. I'll be there," she said quietly. "Soon as I can."
She hung up, put down her glass, and turned to face Brett, bracing herself. He'd put his glass down too. He was drinking the champagne he'd brought home. He'd presented it with a flourish. It was French. French champagne, for her birthday. French champagne, long-stemmed red roses, and perfume. The stuff of romance. He'd opened the champagne before she could stop him. He'd been so hurt, when she'd said she couldn't drink it.
He did it deliberately. He knows you can't drink when you're on call.
He'd just forgotten.
He stood by the table, already set for dinner, where the roses lay dewy in their cellophane, waiting for water. He had his hands in his pockets. She knew that was so she couldn't see the clenched fists. He, too, had been waiting for this moment.
You could have had dinner last night. On Sunday night. You told him you were on call Monday. You said a day early wouldn't matter, but he said no, no, that's no fun. It has to be on your birthday ...
She spread out her hands, tried to look casually, humorously resigned, as though she didn't know what this meant. "It's always the way," she heard herself say inanely.
He said nothing. Just looked. His eyes were angry, the hazel darkened almost to brown. When he was happy, or planning something, his eyes shone green. Whatever they'd been like at work, they hadn't shone green at home much lately. Not for a long time.
"I'm really sorry, Brett. I was so terrified this would happen."
She knew it wouldn't help. Apologizing never helped. In her head, the flat, ironic voice that so often provided a commentary on her life seemed to laugh. This is such a cliche, it was saying. Such a cliche. You, him, this situation ...
"How long will you be?" he asked, though he knew the answer.
She shook her head, fighting down a wave of irritation. She reached for her phone, stuffed it in her handbag. Did she have time to change? She wasn't really dressed for the occasion. She was dressed for Brett. For the birthday dinner that was doomed the moment murder first entered the mind of someone yet unknown. "I don't know. Could be all night."
It was what she always said. But always he asked the question. She made an effort to change the pattern. "It's at Funworld. You know? The old amusement place on the promenade at Barrow Beach?" she said. "A young guy's been knifed. One of the staff. There were no witnesses--"
"I don't want to hear about it," he interrupted quickly. His face registered distaste. His hands bulged in his pockets as he clenched and unclenched his fists.
Tessa looked round for the car keys. The dialogue in her mind went on.
How did I get into this? How did it happen? It wasn't like this at first. He was proud of me, then. He liked it when people were interested in my job. Used to make jokes about me preferring corpses to him. All that.
He just got sick of it. He didn't think it would go on, and on, and on. A failure of imagination.
He's gone on with his job. He goes to conferences. He works long hours. Like tonight. He couldn't get home till nine-thirty. Dinner had to be late. I didn't mind. I never mind.
Get it through your head, you dope. He thinks it's different for him. He'll always think it. That's the way it is.
Tessa shook her head impatiently. She saw the car keys on the table where she'd left them, beside t...
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Book Description Ballantine Books, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110345427939
Book Description Ballantine Books, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0345427939
Book Description Ballantine Books, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0345427939
Book Description Ballantine Books. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0345427939 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1922908