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Joan Brady's "action-packed, densely woven" (Publishers Weekly) novel is an ingeniously layered psychological thriller about a family corrupted by a violent death and the shadow of a complicated friendship.
The victim : An invincible attorney.
Hugh Freyl, the scion of the richest and most influential family in Springfield, Illinois, is found beaten to death in the library of his own law firm.
The suspect : A convicted killer.
David Marion, a young man from the inner city, is on parole. It was Freyl who, to the outrage of colleagues, family, and friends, orchestrated his release from prison. And it was Freyl who took David in as his protégé, giving him a second chance at life. Were Freyl's critics right to suspect David's murderous nature all along? Or was Freyl, a blind man who could always see the truth in others, not all he appeared to be? As David fights to prove his innocence, a twisted world of darkness and deception unfolds.
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Joan Brady was born in California and danced with New York City Ballet when she was in her twenties. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Columbia University, Brady now lives in England where she is an author of short stories; articles; reviews; a highly acclaimed autobiography, The Unmaking of a Dancer, and a novel, Theory of War, for which she became the first woman (and first American) to win the Whitbreak Book of the Year Award in 1993. She is also the author of the best-selling novel, The - migr - , and Death Comes for Peter Pan, a fictionalized account of an American medical scandal, both published in the U.K. In 2001, she represented England at the Centenary of the Nobel Peace Prize. Brady published her first book with Simon & Schuster in 2005, titled Bleedout, in hardover and mass market paperback reprint.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
But why did he kill them?
Try as I might, I cannot find an answer that satisfies me. Stephanie assures me that I would understand if I could see him, but I've been blind for a quarter of a century. I cannot make out as much as a man's outline in full sun. And yet even on the first day I met him, he gave off a sense of threat as soon as he entered the room. He was only a boy then, a couple of months short of sixteen, and already a multiple murderer who would have been on death row if not for his age. That could hardly be it, though. I was used to murderers. I knew the rattle-clank of chains and leg irons.
The more I think about it, the more I think it must have been the way he breathed; I swear I could hear his fury at the very oxygen that gave him life as he took it into his lungs and let it go. The Chernobyl meltdown had dominated the radio for almost a week, and I remember thinking, "Rage is the nuclear core that powers the boy."
All this intensity failed to tell me why he killed them. It still does.
Twenty years of living with the question, and now I find myself in the absurd situation of a man about to be murdered--without the hope of my answer first.
A truck approached along Route 97 out of Springfield, Illinois, going toward Petersburg. A slanting, bleak, early-morning sun shone, but there was no warmth in it. This part of America is fiercely cold in winter. The truck slowed as it passed through the gates of Oakland Cemetery and hit the buckled road that is never repaired until spring, then continued over a small rise ringed round with naked winter branches. Papaws grow here, larch and beech too, and the south fork of the Sangamon River is almost close enough to see.
This is one of the most famous burial places in the country. It's the site of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology and the grave of Ann Rutledge, beloved of Abraham Lincoln, "wedded to him," as Masters's poem on her gravestone reads, "not through union, but through separation." Edgar Lee himself is buried here. So are his wives, his parents, his grandparents, his nephews and their wives. So are dozens of characters from his poems, Mitch Miller, Lucinda Matlock, Bowling and Nancy Green.
Hannah Armstrong is buried here too. She stitched Abe Lincoln's shirts and foxed his pants; she's the one who told him on the day he was elected, "They'll kill ye, Abe." Not far from her lies Chester Gould, who created Dick Tracy. And not far from him, there's Johnny Stompanato, gangster, stabbed to death with a kitchen knife by Hollywood goddess Lana Turner's daughter and buried with full military honors under the personal direction of that mobster of mobsters, Mickey Cohen.
Despite such colorful dead and despite one of the prettiest woodlands for miles around, a vast, bulbous water tower is what sets the tone. It's blue and white, and looms over the countryside atop a single spindly stilt, garish, ungainly, intrusive. The graves look shoddy, even Ann Rutledge's and Johnny Stompanato's. They reek of cheap and cheesy haste, death stashed away as fast as possible: a glance at a shiny catalogue and a quick talk with an oily somebody who promises to handle all the unpleasantness. A few relatives do come to pay a pious postfuneral visit with plastic flowers. But by the time winter gets its teeth in, even these meager offerings have faded under a coat of grime and dirt.
Beyond the main set of graves, the paved road ends.
The truck slowed to a creep here; a sign on its baby blue side read P. M. Wurtzel and Son in elegant copperplate lettering. It jounced along a rutted dirt path past a cluster of trees and into a secluded area, a tiny Eden where there was only one grave, different from the others, a delicate, hand-carved stone rather like the ones found in English country churchyards. The dogwood that overhangs it blooms every spring. The truck stopped. Six men bundled out and stamped their feet against the cold.
The ground was solid ice some five to six inches beneath the surface that morning. In olden days, winter corpses piled up in the woodshed until spring and the thaw; these state-of-the-art workmen set up a propane heater--a model specially designed for the purpose--and began defrosting. They powered up a generator for the pneumatic drill, reamed out holes for stakes, erected poles and strung ropes to build a frame. What emerged was a sturdy tent, and how unexpected it looked in the cold landscape, this touch of summer gaiety escaped from the state fair. It was summertime inside too. Portable heaters warmed the air; brilliant green AstroTurf covered the floor except where the ground defroster stood. Chairs stood in orderly rows, a lectern in front of them.
Only then did the crew remove the ground defroster and begin to dig. But when they finished, the hole was only two feet square and three feet deep, just big enough to take in an elderly aunt's cat or maybe her Pekingese. More AstroTurf went down into the gap; they patted it into place as cooks might pat dough into an irregularly shaped pie pan and then began to gather up their tools in preparation for the boss's arrival.
This was an important funeral. The press would attend, and the crew sensed excitement in the air.
My name is Hugh Freyl. I am a corporate lawyer, and I went blind in O'Hare Airport only half an hour before the last flight to Springfield.
At the time, I was deep into the hydra-headed litigation spawned by the merger of Michigan Genetic and Westman-Boyle. There was $800 million at stake, and the route to this pot of gold was littered with class-action suits, accusations of covert premiums, secret share deals, illusory poison pills. No corporate lawyer can resist a case like this, and I had just about mastered enough of the detail for a plan of action to emerge.
I cannot imagine why I should have felt abruptly restless. Nor can I imagine why I left the safety of American Airlines' business lounge or why I wandered out into the concourse or why I sat down there in among the bustle of people. But the last thing I saw was Terminal Two's high-vaulted ceiling. I looked up at it, then rested my head in my hands and closed my eyes. When I opened them again...
Not a thing. Nothing. A blank screen.
My beautiful Rose had migraines; she had described the blind spots that preceded them--and always went away. I told myself to be calm, to wait it out. I told myself this too would pass. But even as I mouthed the words, I bolted off my chair, stumbled, half fell, reached out, caught hold of somebody, started to babble.
"Please help me. I do not know what's--"
The somebody shook me off.
I stuck my arms out in front of me--there were people everywhere, I could hear them--and yet somehow, magically, there was only empty space around me, eye of the storm, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at a children's party. I lunged out and managed to snag a passerby.
"You've got to help--"
"Let go." It was a man. I had him by the coat, and he yanked at it.
"Find me a doctor." I could hear pleading in my voice. "Please help me to--"
"Let go of me!"
"I need a--"
"Just let go, huh?"
"I cannot see. I know there's a medical station by the--"
"Sure, sure. Wait here, huh?"
And he was gone. I waited. Nobody came.
I caught hold of a woman next. She escaped with a shriek. I caught another. She listened and disappeared. I got a man who found me a place to sit down before he disappeared too. I sat there for...I could not possibly say. It seemed hours. I did not dare get up. My legs felt gelatinous; I knew I would never find my way to another seat.
And then she came to me: "You okay, mister? You're looking kind of peaked."
It was a wavery voice, impossible in a young woman, but not weak or aged either; when she left me--ostensibly to find that elusive doctor--it did not cross my mind that she would come back any more than the others had. And yet five minutes later I had a whole medical team around me.
"Where's my Good Samaritan?" I said to them. "Please. I must thank her. I must speak to her."
"Don't you worry none," came that wavery voice. "This here's a doctor. He's gonna fix you up. You gonna be okay."
"I hardly know..." I had not wept since I was a boy; I was so grateful that tears poured down my cheeks. "How can I ever thank you?"
"No need for that, sir. Anybody'd have done the same."
At ten-thirty, just as the workmen packed away the last of their tools, the media began to arrive at Oakland Cemetery. WICS-TV had come from Decatur, where there had been mysterious attacks on three McDonald's in a single week; the CNN crew had traveled overnight from Biloxi and a story on the run-ups to the Miss Winter Orange beauty contest. Video technicians wielded shoulder cameras, filming this grave and that vista; audio technicians tested microphones; interviewers jockeyed for position. Print and radio reporters arrived with notebooks, tape recorders, still cameras.
All were in place by the time the president of P. M. Wurtzel Funeral Home arrived. The son and heir of the original P. M. Wurtzel himself was fresh-faced, aggressively young, pink-cheeked, athletic if somewhat overweight, a Bible-belt product of vitamins and virtue. He bowed for the cameramen, who dutifully filmed him and the box he carried so decorously, a small, highly polished wooden thing decorated with a filigree design in polished brass.
At eleven, Springfield's matriarch, Becky Freyl, arrived in the family Lexus SUV and got out, helped by the substantial Lillian, her cook and companion. Microphones, interviewers, tape recorders rushed forward. Cameras rolled and clicked. At eighty-seven, Becky was tall and fine-featured, as intensely feminine as the southern belle she had always been, but she ruled this town with the sharp wit and the painfully sharp tongue that had whipped it into shape sixty years earlier when she arrived from the big city of Atlanta to marry into the Freyl family of Springfield.
Interviewers began talking even befor...
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