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Dear Irene,

An Irene kelly Novel



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About The Book

When a strange letter signed "Thanatos" -- the ancient Greek name for death -- lands on Irene Kelly's desk, the intrepid reporter doesn't think much of it; she gets crazy mail all the time. A less cryptic message is sent when a body turns up the next morning. As more letters roll in, the death toll mounts...and Irene fears that her mysterious pen pal has cast her in his own private Greek tragedy as Cassandra, the seer whom others refused to believe. It's the killer's dream to challenge Irene to follow his ancient blueprint for murder. It's his ultimate desire to make her face the inevitable -- that she is the next to die.


Chapter 1

November 28, 1990

Please hand deliver to:

Miss Irene Kelly

Las Piernas News Express

600 Broadway

Las Piernas, CA

Dear Miss Kelly,

I am writing to you because those guys who write the Sports Section are a bunch of jerks who won't take me seriously. My dog, Pigskin, can predict the outcome of the Super Bowl. So far, he has a perfect record. Once the playoff teams have been decided, I simply glue the team emblems to the bottoms of two dishes of dog food, put them on the floor, and whichever one Pigskin goes to, that's which team will win. I think this is pretty interesting and thought maybe you should do a story on it...

I crumpled that one into a ball and spiked Pigskin right into the round file -- and did it all left-handed. But after a moment, I pulled the letter back out of the trash. Setting aside my generally rotten mood that day, I decided Pigskin might be of help with this year's office football pool.

Going through my mail that Wednesday afternoon in late November, I had already sorted out the flyers on meetings and the invitations to local political wingdings. That left only the pile of the envelopes which were less easily identified. Some were handwritten, some typed, some bore computer-generated labels. Few had return addresses.

I. Kelly

Las Piernas News Express

Dear Bleeding Heart Kelly,

The recent media worship of the Premier of the Soviet Union is disgusting. Presenting Mr. Gorbachev as a reformer is the most insidious communist plot yet. Not that you lily-livered

leftists of the press are hard to fool, but I think it should be obvious that this is all just a charade to get us to drop our guard...

I was unfazed by these unflattering descriptions of my internal organs. I admit that I was a little distracted, not paying much attention to the occasional crank among my readers' correspondence. My mail isn't always as oddball as it was that day, but the approach of certain major holidays seems to make nut cases reach for their stationery.

Most are harmless, lonely people who just need somebody to listen to them. Every now and again, one of them causes some trouble, like the guy who showed up in the newsroom one day with his parrot, claiming the bird was the reincarnation of Sigmund Freud. I don't know what women want, but Sigmund wanted a cracker.

Ms. Irene Kelly

Las Piernas News Express

Dear Irene,

I very much enjoyed the recent commentary column in which you said that the state lottery is a tax on hope. I agree with you one hundred percent. You are the brightest, most insightful writer on the staff of the Express. Your prose is brilliant. I was greatly impressed by your grasp of the complex statistical data on the Eberhardt study of lottery purchasing patterns, as well as your ability to clearly explain the study's significance to the average reader. I would really like to meet you, but if this is not possible, would you please send me a pair of your panties?

Lydia Ames laughed as she read that one over my shoulder. She works at the paper as an ACE, or Assistant City Editor. "Going to show that one to your fiancé?"

I gave her my best scowl. She's known me since third grade, so she wasn't much intimidated. She really delighted in that word "fiancé." Like a lot of other people I know, she's spent a number of years wondering if I would ever give her any reason to use it. I had been getting a lot of this "fiancé" stuff lately; given the way Frank Harriman had proposed, I doubt we could have managed a secret engagement.

As if thinking about the very same thing, Lydia looked down at the new cast my orthopedist had just put on my right foot that afternoon. "Did you save the 'Marry me, Irene' cast?"

"My fiancé has it."

She caught my tone. "I guess you're really disappointed about having to wear another one."

"Yeah, I am. I hobbled in there with visions of being free of these damned things and look how I ended up."

"Well, at least you're out of the sling, and the doctor did take the cast off your right hand."

"And replaced it with a splint."

"A removable splint."

"Terrific. He walks in and announces, 'So today we'll give you a new foot cast! This one will be easier to walk with! It's made of fiberglass!' Acting like I'd won a Rolls-Royce in a church raffle."

She didn't say anything.

I sighed, looking down at my latest orthopedic fashion accessory. Fiberglass.

I was recovering from a run-in with a group of toughs who wanted to rearrange my bones. I was healing, but my emotions could still surprise me. This was my first week back at work, and I found I had to be on guard against sudden bouts of extreme frustration.

"Sorry, Lydia. I'll cheer up in a few minutes. Things aren't going the way I planned. Thought I'd be running around, no casts, no slings, no splints. My day to be wrong. I'm also cranky because I feel useless around here."

"Just be patient with yourself, okay?"

"I'll try. But patience and I have been estranged for many years."

She laughed. "I don't think you've been introduced."

Mr. Irene Kelly

Las Piernas News Express

Dear Mr. Kelly,

I am writing again to tell you that something must be done to stop the United States Government's heinous
MIND CONTROL experiments. I am just one of THOUSANDS of persons who, after being INVOLUNTARILY incarcerated in a government mental hospital under the PRETEXT of being under observation, was subjected to surgery in which a computer chip was embedded under my skin. This chip is used by the government to send MESSAGES TO MY BRAIN. Fortunately, I received an earlier model, so THEY DON'T KNOW that I'm writing to you. The newer models can tell them EVERYTHING you are thinking at all times. PLEASE HELP US. If you don't, there will be big trouble for all concerned...

Big trouble. Frank has complained that sometimes I seem to go around looking for trouble. Not a comforting thing to hear a homicide detective say, but maybe he's right. After all, being a reporter often involves looking for somebody's trouble. But it's not supposed to become my trouble. My news editor, John Walters, tries to impress this point on me every so often.

Irene Kelly

Las Piernas New Express

Dear Irene Kelly,

I was dismayed to learn that Las Piernas does not have a city song. I am a songwriter (still waiting for my big break) and I know I could write a terrific song for our city. However, I would like to be fair about it, so I came up with the idea of a contest. I asked around City Hall and found little interest there until I happened to talk to a Mr. P.J. Jacobsen who said that maybe the newspaper could sponsor a contest. Mr. Jacobsen said you were just the person to contact. He said to be sure to tell you that this was the least he could do for you after that article you wrote about him last August...

Poor P.J. "Sleepy" Jacobsen. What a lousy attempt at revenge. The previous August, I had brought the public's attention to the slipshod way in which Sleepy ran his office as Assistant City Treasurer. I guess he hadn't heard that old adage that says you shouldn't pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. The Express buys it by the tanker truckload.

I wasn't concentrating at all now, just flipping through the envelopes, bored silly. Among other injuries, my right shoulder had been dislocated and my right thumb had been broken, so I was slow as molasses on the keyboard. Over the last few days, I had managed to peck out a few commentary columns and a couple of obits. Lydia sent some rewriting my way, nothing that was on fire.

My thoughts drifted to Frank, and the conversation we had as he drove me back to work.

"You know what you need?" he had said, glancing over at me. "You need a good story to work on. Something that will get your mind off your injuries."

"I'm not much use as a reporter right now. Besides, the most intriguing stories don't just knock on the paper's front door, looking for a reporter. You have to go out and find them. And I'm stuck at a desk."

Nobody's right all the time. As I said, it was my day to be wrong. That November afternoon, trouble came looking for me. Trouble got lucky. There was a story waiting for me on my desk. It was over two thousand years old, but it would become big news in no time.

Copyright © 1995 by Jan Burke

About The Author

Sheri McKinley Photography

Jan Burke is the author of a dozen novels and a collection of short stories. She is the founder of the Crime Lab Project and is a member of the board of the California Forensic Science Institute. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two dogs. Learn more about her at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pocket Books (January 1, 2003)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743444491

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The Washington Post A first-rate series.

James Ellroy Deft, witty, wise, and very well crafted...should push Jan Burke to her rightful place at the top of the heap.

Publishers Weekly Another intelligent tale of danger and vengeance.

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