Hailed by reviewers and fellow authors alike, Edgar Award winner Jan Burke has won a legion of devoted readers with her witty, ingeniously crafted novels featuring Irene Kelly. Now Burke, who earned critical acclaim for her stunning departure novel, Flight, returns with another electrifying thriller: Nine will hold readers in thrall until the breathtaking conclusion. When a brutal felon on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list turns up dead in Los Angeles County, few mourn him; in fact, the public begins to cheer his unknown assailants as heroes. But as more brutalized corpses of fugitive outlaws are found, Sheriff's Homicide Detective Alex Brandon knows that the vigilante group the public has nicknamed "The Exterminators" may be far more ruthless and sadistic than its victims. The corpses bear eerie similarities to victims of a serial killer investigated by Brandon ten years ago. The perpetrator died at the hands of his own deeply traumatized teenaged stepson, Kit Logan. Logan, protected by his wealthy family, never spent a day in jail; instead, he was sent to a private reform school for the truant sons of L.A.'s most affluent. Alex Brandon, unable to locate Logan for questioning, has a chilling sense he is being manipulated. But why? A terrifying novel that asks what happens when justice is no longer enough, Nine introduces an unforgettable protagonist. A modern morality tale, it is another captivating gem from an acclaimed master of mystery and suspense.
A black-winged bird swooped past Kit's left shoulder, and he shied away from it, crouching down low, half losing his balance. The heavy bundle he carried fell from his arms, landing on the leaf-strewn path with a soft thud. This seemed to him another ill omen, and he quickly and silently apologized to the canvas-wrapped form. He cowered there for a moment, cringing as the raven circled back -- but the bird flew higher this time and soon was gone from sight. He waited in vain for his fear to follow it.
What did it mean, a raven coming so close to him?
Make sense, he warned himself. Don't think crazy thoughts about birds.
But fear proved tenacious, and his mind caromed through a maze of remembered terrors. He began shaking.
He made a determined effort to steer his thoughts toward the logical. The raven was a bird, not a supernatural creature. The raven had been attracted to the burden Kit carried into the woods.
You are not a boy, he told himself. You are a twenty-six-year-old man. Don't act like a child.
He told himself it was the chill of the autumn air that made him feel cold -- not his dread, not his superstition. Not that he had dreamed the digging dream just last night.
A beetle moved over the canvas, and he brushed it away, then gently lifted the bundle again. "I'm sorry," he said once more and continued into the woods.
When he was first deciding on a place for the burial, Kit had thought of one with a view. But no one knew better than he did that killers often buried their victims in such places, and so he had searched for a location only he could find again, where the markers would not be so obvious to anyone else.
When he came to the chosen site, he carefully set the bundle aside and steeled himself for the next chore.
The ground was not as hard here as in other places in the woods, but he found this task so difficult to begin, he nearly decided to choose some other way. A glance at the canvas bundle brought back his resolve -- the other choices were not fitting.
Inside his leather gloves, his hands were slick with perspiration. He took hold of the small spade. The grating ring of its first stab into the earth made him dizzy, but again he took himself to task. He looked at the hard muscles of his arms, his large hands, his booted feet. He fitted his strength into a harness of remembered movement -- thrust and step and lift and swing, thrust and step and lift and swing -- settling into a rhythm divorced from thought, a familiar cadence that lulled him into the mindless completion of his work.
Still, he was weeping by the time he settled the small body into its resting place, and wept as he covered it. He placed a layer of stones within the grave when it was half-filled, to discourage scavengers. This he covered with soil. When he finished, he gathered leaves and spread them over the surface, so that it blended in with its surroundings. He stood back and looked at the grave from several different angles. When he felt confident that it was unlikely to be found, even by someone who was looking for it, he packed the spade away.
He had a kind of expertise in burial.
As he reached the ridge, he saw smoke coming from the cabin's chimney. He began running.
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 JanBurke.com.