Ricochet

A Novel

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About The Book

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seeing Red presents a spine-tingling story of murder and betrayal in high society Savannah, where a homicide detective finds his career—and life—on the line.

When Savannah detective Duncan Hatcher is summoned to an unusual crime scene, he knows discretion is key. Influential Judge Cato Laird's beloved trophy wife, Elise, has fatally shot a burglar. She claims self-defense, but Duncan suspects she's lying, and puts his career in jeopardy by investigating further. Then, in secret, Elise makes an incredible allegation, which he dismisses as the lie of a cunning woman trying to exploit his intense attraction to her. But when Elise goes missing, Duncan finds that trusting the wrong person could mean the difference between life and death for both of them.

Excerpt
Ricochet
CHAPTER
1

Six Weeks Earlier

THE MURDER TRIAL OF ROBERT SAVICH WAS in its fourth day.

Homicide detective Duncan Hatcher was wondering what the hell was going on.

As soon as court had reconvened after the lunch break, the defendant’s attorney, Stan Adams, had asked the judge for a private meeting. Judge Laird, as perplexed by the request as ADA Mike Nelson, had nonetheless granted it and the three had withdrawn to chambers. The jury had retired to the jury room, leaving only the spectators to question the significance of this unexpected conference.

They’d been out for half an hour. Duncan’s anxiety grew with each passing minute. He’d wanted the trial to proceed without a blip, without any hitch that could result in an easy appeal or, God forbid, an overturned verdict. That’s why this behind-closed-doors powwow was making him so nervous.

His impatience eventually drove him out into the corridor, where he paced, but never out of earshot of the courtroom. From this fourth-floor vantage point, he watched a pair of tugs guide a merchant ship along the channel toward the ocean. Then, unable to stand the suspense, he returned to his seat in the courtroom.

“Duncan, for heaven’s sake, sit still! You’re squirming like a two-year-old.” To pass the time, his partner detective, DeeDee Bowen, was working a crossword puzzle.

“What could they be talking about in there?”

“Plea bargain? Manslaughter, maybe?”

“Get real,” he said. “Savich wouldn’t admit to a parking violation, much less a hit.”

“What’s a seven-letter word for surrender?” DeeDee asked.

“Abdicate.”

She looked at him with annoyance. “How’d you come up with that so fast?”

“I’m a genius.”

She tried the word. “Not this time. ‘Abdicate’ doesn’t fit. Besides, that’s eight letters.”

“Then I don’t know.”

The defendant, Robert Savich, was seated at the defense table looking way too complacent for a man on trial for murder, and much too confident to allay Duncan’s anxiety. As though feeling Duncan’s stare on the back of his neck, Savich turned and smiled at him. His fingers continued to idly drum the arms of his chair as though keeping time to a catchy tune only he could hear. His legs were casually crossed. He was a portrait of composure.

To anyone who didn’t know him, Robert Savich looked like a respectable businessman with a slightly rebellious flair for fashion. For court today he was dressed in a suit of conservative gray, but the slim tailoring of it was distinctly European. His shirt was pale blue, his necktie lavender. His signature ponytail was sleek and glossy. A multicarat diamond glittered from his earlobe.

The classy clothes, his insouciance, were elements of his polished veneer, which gave no indication of the unconscionable criminal behind them.

He’d been arrested and brought before the grand jury on numerous charges that included several murders, one arson, and various lesser felonies, most of which were related to drug trafficking. But over the course of his long and illustrious career, he’d been indicted and tried only twice. The first had been a drug charge. He’d been acquitted because the state failed to prove their case, which, granted, was flimsy.

His second trial was for the murder of one Andre Bonnet. Savich had blown up his house. Along with ATF agents, Duncan had investigated the homicide. Unfortunately, most of the evidence was circumstantial, but had been believed strong enough to win a conviction. However, the DA’s office had assigned a green prosecutor who didn’t have the savvy or experience necessary to convince all the jurors of Savich’s guilt. The trial had resulted in a hung jury.

But it hadn’t ended there. It was discovered that the young ADA had also withheld exculpatory evidence from attorney Stan Adams. The hue and cry he raised made the DA’s office gun-shy to prosecute again in any sort of timely fashion. The case remained on the books and probably would until the polar ice caps melted.

Duncan had taken that defeat hard. Despite the young prosecutor’s bungling, he’d regarded it a personal failure and had dedicated himself to putting an end to Savich’s thriving criminal career.

This time, he was betting the farm on a conviction. Savich was charged with the murder of Freddy Morris, one of his many employees, a drug dealer whom undercover narcotics officers had caught making and distributing methamphetamine. The evidence against Freddy Morris had been indisputable, his conviction virtually guaranteed, and, since he was a repeat offender, he’d face years of hard time.

The DEA and the police department’s narcs got together and offered Freddy Morris a deal—reduced charges and significantly less prison time in exchange for his boss Savich, who was the kingpin they were really after.

In light of the prison sentence he was facing, Freddy had accepted the offer. But before the carefully planned sting could be executed, Freddy was. He was found lying facedown in a marsh with a bullet hole in the back of his head.

Duncan was confident that Savich wouldn’t escape conviction this time. The prosecutor was less optimistic. “I hope you’re right, Dunk,” Mike Nelson had said the previous evening as he’d coached Duncan on his upcoming appearance on the witness stand. “A lot hinges on your testimony.” Tugging on his lower lip, he’d added thoughtfully, “I’m afraid that Adams is going to hammer us on the probable cause issue.”

“I had probable cause to question Savich,” Duncan insisted. “Freddy’s first reaction to the offer was to say that if he even farted in our direction, Savich would cut out his tongue. So, when I’m looking down at Freddy’s corpse, I see that not only is his brain an oozing mush, his tongue has been cut out. According to the ME, it was cut out while he was still alive. You don’t think that gave me probable cause to go after Savich immediately?”

The blood had been fresh and Freddy’s body still warm when Duncan and DeeDee were called to the grisly scene. DEA officers and SPD narcs were engaged in a battle royal over who had blown Freddy’s cover.

“You were supposed to have three men monitoring his every move,” one of the DEA agents yelled at his police counterpart.

“You had four! Where were they?” the narc yelled back.

“They thought he was safe at home.”

“Yeah? Well, so did we.”

“Jesus!” the federal agent swore in frustration. “How’d he slip past us?”

No matter who had botched the sting, Freddy was no longer any use to them and quarreling about it was a waste of time. Leaving DeeDee to referee the two factions swapping invectives and blame, Duncan had gone after Savich.

“I didn’t plan on arresting him,” Duncan had explained to Mike Nelson. “I only went to his office to question him. Swear to God.”

“You fought with him, Dunk. That may hurt us. Adams isn’t going to let that get past the jury. He’s going to hint at police brutality, if not accuse you outright. False arrest. Hell, I don’t know what all he’ll pull out of the hat.”

He’d ended by tacking on a reminder that nothing was a sure thing and that anything could happen during a trial.

Duncan didn’t understand the ADA’s concern. To him it seemed clear-cut and easily understood. He’d gone directly from the scene of Freddy Morris’s murder to Savich’s office. Duncan had barged in unannounced to find Savich in the company of a woman later identified by mug shots as Lucille Jones, who was on her knees fellating him.

This morning, Duncan’s testimony about that had caused a hush to fall over the courtroom. Restless movements ceased. The bailiff, who had been dozing, sat up, suddenly wakeful. Duncan glanced at the jury box. One of the older women ducked her head in embarrassment. Another, a contemporary of the first, appeared confused as to the meaning of the word. One of the four male jurors looked at Savich with a smirk of admiration. Savich was examining his fingernails as though considering a manicure later in the day.

Duncan had testified that the moment he entered Savich’s office, Savich had reached for a gun. “A pistol was lying on his desk. He lunged toward it. I knew I’d be dead if he got hold of that weapon.”

Adams came to his feet. “Objection, Your Honor. Conclusion.”

“Sustained.”

Mike Nelson amended his question and eventually established with the jurors that Duncan had rushed Savich only to defend himself from possible harm. The ensuing struggle was intense, but finally Duncan was able to restrain Savich.

“And once you had subdued Mr. Savich,” the prosecutor said, “did you confiscate that weapon as evidence, Detective Hatcher?”

Here’s where it got tricky. “No. By the time I had Savich in restraints, the pistol had disappeared and so had the woman.”

Neither had been seen since.

Duncan arrested Savich for assault on a police officer. While he was being held on that charge, Duncan, DeeDee, and other officers had constructed a case against him for the murder of Freddy Morris.

They didn’t have the weapon that Duncan had seen, which they were certain Savich had used to slay Freddy Morris less than an hour earlier. They didn’t have the testimony of the woman. They didn’t even have footprints or tire prints at the scene because the tide had come in and washed them away prior to the discovery of the body.

What they did have was the testimony of several other agents who’d heard Freddy’s fearful claim that Savich would cut out his tongue and then kill him if he made a deal with the authorities, or even talked to them. And, since Lucille Jones’s whereabouts were unknown, Savich couldn’t produce a credible alibi. The DA’s office had won convictions on less, so the case had come to trial.

Nelson expected Duncan would get hammered by Savich’s attorney during cross-examination that afternoon. Over lunch, he had tried to prepare him for it. “He’s going to claim harassment and tell the jury that you’ve harbored a personal grudge against his client for years.”

“You bet your ass, I have,” Duncan said. “The son of a bitch is a killer. It’s my sworn duty to catch killers.”

Nelson sighed. “Just don’t let it sound personal, all right?”

“I’ll try.”

“Even though it is.”

“I said I’ll try, Mike. But, yeah, it’s become personal.”

“Adams is going to claim that Savich has a permit to carry a handgun, so the weapon itself isn’t incriminating. And then he’s going to claim that there never was a weapon. He may even question if there was really a woman giving him a blow job. He’ll deny, deny, deny, and build up a mountain of doubt in the jurors’ minds. He may even make a motion to dismiss your entire testimony since there’s no corroboration.”

Duncan knew what he was up against. He’d come up against Stan Adams before. But he was anxious to get on with it.

He was staring at the door leading to the judge’s chambers, willing it to open, when it actually did.

“All rise,” the bailiff intoned.

Duncan shot to his feet. He searched the expressions of the three men as they reentered the courtroom and resumed their places. He leaned toward DeeDee. “What think you?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.”

His partner had an uncanny and reliable talent for reading people and situations, and she had just validated the foreboding he was feeling.

Another bad sign—Mike Nelson kept his head averted and didn’t look in their direction.

Stan Adams sat down beside his client and patted the sleeve of Savich’s expensive suit.

Duncan’s gut tightened with apprehension.

The judge stepped onto the bench and signaled the bailiff to ask the jury to return. He took his seat behind the podium and carefully arranged his robe. He scooted the tray holding a drinking glass and a carafe of water one-half inch to his right and adjusted the microphone, which needed no adjustment.

Once the jury had filed in and everyone was situated, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay, but a matter of importance had to be addressed immediately.”

Cato Laird was a popular judge, with the public and with the media, which he courted like a suitor. Nearing fifty, he had the physique of a thirty-year-old and the facial features of a movie star. In fact, a few years earlier he had played a cameo role of a judge in a movie filmed in Savannah.

Comfortable in front of cameras, he could be counted on to provide a sound bite whenever a news story revolved around crime, criminals, or jurisprudence. He was speaking in that well-known, often-heard silver-tongued tone now. “Mr. Adams has brought to my attention that during voir dire, juror number ten failed to disclose that her son is enrolled in the next class of candidate officers for the Savannah–Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.”

Duncan glanced at the jury box and noticed the empty chair in the second row.

“Oh, jeez,” DeeDee said under her breath.

“The juror has admitted as much to me,” Judge Laird said. “She didn’t intentionally try to deceive the court, she simply failed to recognize how that omission could affect the outcome of this trial.”

“What?”

DeeDee nudged Duncan, warning him to keep his voice down.

The judge looked in their direction, but continued.

“When seating a jury, attorneys for each side have an opportunity to eliminate any individuals who they feel have the potential of swaying the verdict. Mr. Adams is of the opinion that a juror whose family member will soon become a police officer may have a fundamental prejudice against any defendant in a criminal trial, but especially one accused of this particularly egregious slaying.”

He paused, then said, “I agree with counsel on this point and am therefore compelled to declare a mistrial.” He banged his gavel. “Jurors, you are dismissed. Mr. Adams, your client is free to go. Court is adjourned.”

Duncan came out of his chair. “You have got to be kidding!”

The judge’s gaze sought him out and, in a tone that could have cut a diamond, he said, “I assure you I am not kidding, Detective Hatcher.”

Duncan stepped into the aisle and walked up it as far as the railing. He pointed at Savich. “Your Honor, you cannot let him walk out of here.”

Mike Nelson was at his elbow, speaking under his breath. “Dunk, calm down.”

“You can retry the case, Mr. Nelson,” the judge said as he stood and prepared to leave. “But I advise you to have more solid evidence before you do.” He glanced at Duncan, adding, “Or more credible testimony.”

Duncan saw red. “You think I’m lying?”

“Duncan.”

DeeDee had come up behind him and taken hold of his arm, trying to pull him back down the aisle toward the exit, but he yanked his arm free.

“The pistol was real. It was practically smoking. The woman was real. She jumped to her feet when I came in and—”

The judge banged his gavel, silencing him. “You can testify at the next trial. If there is one.”

Suddenly Savich was in front of him, filling his field of vision, smiling. “You blew it again, Hatcher.”

Mike Nelson grabbed Duncan’s arm to keep him from vaulting over the railing. “I’m gonna nail you, you son of a bitch. Etch it into your skin. Tattoo it on your ass. I’m gonna nail you.”

His voice rife with menace, Savich said, “I’ll be seeing you. Soon.” Then he blew Duncan an air kiss.

Adams hastily ushered his client past Duncan, who looked toward the judge. “How can you let him go?”

“Not I, Detective Hatcher, the law.”

“You’re the law. Or rather you’re supposed to be.”

“Duncan, shut up,” DeeDee hissed. “We’ll redouble our search for Lucille Jones. Maybe the weapon will turn up. We’ll get Savich sooner or later.”

“We could have had him sooner,” he said, making no attempt to lower his voice. “We could have had him today. We could have had him right fucking now if we’d had a judge who sides with cops more than he sides with criminals.”

“Oh hell,” DeeDee groaned.

“Detective Hatcher.” Judge Laird leaned upon the podium and glared at Duncan. As though addressing him from a burning bush, he said, “I’m willing to do you a favor and overlook that statement because I understand the level of your frustration.”

“You don’t understand jack shit. And if you wanted to do me a favor, Your Honor, you would have replaced that juror instead of declaring a mistrial. If you wanted to do me a favor, you would have given us an even chance of putting this murderer out of commission for good.”

Every muscle in the judge’s handsome face tensed, but his voice remained remarkably controlled. “I advise you to leave this courtroom now, before you say something for which I’ll be forced to hold you in contempt.”

Duncan aimed his index finger at the exit door through which Savich and his attorney had just passed. “Savich is thumbing his nose at you, too, same as he is at me. He loves killing people, and you just handed him a free pass to go out and kill some more.”

“I ruled as the law dictates.”

“No, what you did—”

“Duncan, please,” DeeDee said.

“—is crap on me. You crapped on the people who elected you because they believed your promise to be tough on criminals like Savich. You crapped on Detective Bowen here, and on the DA’s office, and on everybody else who’s ever tried to nail this bastard. That’s what you did. Your Honor.”

• • •

“ ‘Hands up.’ ”

“What?”

“Seven-letter word for surrender.”

DeeDee gaped at Duncan as he situated himself in the passenger seat of her car and buckled his seat belt. “Forty-eight hours in jail, and that’s the first thing you have to say?”

“I had a lot of time to think about it.”

“ ‘Hands up’ is two words, genius.”

“Still works, I bet.”

“We’ll never know. I threw the puzzle away.”

“Couldn’t finish?” he teased, knowing that it irked her because he could normally finish a puzzle long before she could. He had a knack for them; she didn’t.

“No, I threw it away because I didn’t want any reminders of your overplayed scene in the courtroom.” She left the detention center parking lot and headed toward downtown. “You let your mouth overload your ass.”

He sat brooding, saying nothing.

“Look, Duncan, I understand why you want Savich. We all want Savich. He’s evil incarnate. But to verbally abuse a judge in his own courtroom? That’s crazy. You damaged yourself as well as the department.” She shot him a glance. “Of course it’s not my place to lecture. You’re the senior partner.”

“Thank you for remembering that.”

“I’m talking as your friend. I’m only saying this for your own good. Your zeal is admirable, but you’ve got to keep a rein on your temper.”

Feeling not at all zealous, he stared moodily through the windshield. Savannah was baking under a fierce sun. The air was laden with moisture. Everything looked limp, wilted, as weary as he felt. The air conditioner in DeeDee’s car was fighting a losing battle against the humidity. Already the back of his shirt was damp.

He wiped drops of sweat off his forehead. “I got a shower this morning, but I still stink like jail.”

“Was it terrible?”

“Not too bad, but I don’t want to go back any time soon.”

“Gerard is unhappy with you,” she said, speaking of Lieutenant Bill Gerard, their immediate supervisor.

“Judge Laird gives Savich a walk and Gerard is unhappy with me?”

DeeDee stopped at a traffic light and looked over at him. “Don’t get pissed at what I’m about to say.”

“I thought the lecture was over.”

“You really gave the judge no choice.” In the two years since DeeDee had been bumped up to homicide and made his partner, he’d never seen one iota of maternal instinct in her nature. Her expression now came close. “After the things you said, Judge Laird was practically duty-bound to hold you in contempt.”

“Then His Honor and I have something in common. I feel bound to hold him in contempt, too.”

“I think he got the message. As for Gerard, he has to toe the company line. He can’t have his detectives telling off superior court judges.”

“Okay, okay, I acknowledge the error of my ways. I served my time. At Savich’s next trial, I promise to be a perfect gentleman, meek as a lamb, so long as Judge Laird, in turn, will cut us some slack. After the other day, he owes us.”

“Uh, Duncan.”

“Uh, what?”

“Mike Nelson called this afternoon.” She hesitated, sighed. “The DA’s position is that we didn’t have enough on Savich—”

“I don’t want to hear this, do I?”

“He said this trial was a long shot to start with, that we probably wouldn’t have got a conviction anyway, and that he’s not going to try the case again. Not unless we turn up something rock solid that places Savich at the scene.”

Duncan had feared as much, but hearing it was worse than the dread of hearing it. He laid his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. “I don’t know why I give a damn about Savich or any other scumbag. Nobody else does. The DA is probably more upset with me than he is with the Neanderthal who killed his wife last night over a tough pork chop. He was in the cell next to mine. If he told me once, he told me a dozen times that the bitch had it coming.”

Sighing, he rolled his head to gaze out the window at the venerable live oaks along the boulevard. The clumps of Spanish moss dangling from their branches looked bedraggled in the oppressive heat.

“I mean, why do we bother?” he asked rhetorically. “If Savich pops a meth maker like Freddy Morris every now and then, he’s performing a public service, isn’t he?”

“No, because before that meth maker’s body is cold, Savich will have his replacement set up for business.”

“So, I repeat, what’s the point? I’m all out of that zeal you referenced. I don’t give a shit. Not anymore.”

DeeDee rolled her eyes.

“Do you know how old I am?” he asked.

“Thirty-seven.”

“Eight. And in twenty years I’ll be fifty-eight. I’ll have an enlarged prostate and a shrunken dick. My hair will be thinner, my waistline thicker.”

“Your outlook gloomier.”

“You’re goddamn right,” he said angrily, sitting up suddenly and jabbing the dashboard with his index finger as he enumerated his points. “Because I will have put in twenty more years of futility. There’ll be more Saviches killing people. What will it all have been for?”

She pulled to the curb and braked. It hadn’t registered with him until then that she’d driven him home, not to the parking lot where his car had been abandoned at the judicial center when he was taken into custody and marched from the courtroom.

DeeDee leaned back against her seat and turned to him. “Granted, we’ve had a setback. Tomorrow—”

“Setback? Setback? We’re as dead as poor Freddy Morris. His execution scared the hell out of any other mule who has ever even remotely considered striking a deal with us or the Feds. Savich used Freddy to send a message, and it went out loud and clear. You talk, you die, and you die ugly. Nobody will talk,” he said, enunciating the last three words.

He slammed his fist into his palm. “I cannot believe that slick son of a bitch got off again. How does he do it? Nobody’s that supernaturally lucky. Or that smart. Somewhere along his body-strewn path, he must’ve struck a deal with the devil. All the demons in hell must be working for his side. But I swear this to you, DeeDee. If it’s the last thing I do—” Noticing her smile, he broke off. “What?”

“Don’t look now, Duncan, but you sound full of zeal again.”

He grumbled a swear word or two, undid his seat belt, and pushed open the car door. “Thanks for the lift.”

“I’m coming in.” Before getting out, she reached into the backseat for the dry cleaner’s bag that had been hanging on the hook on the door.

“What’s that?”

“The suit I’m wearing tonight. I’m going to change here, save myself the drive all the way home and then back downtown.”

“What’s tonight?”

“The awards dinner.” She looked at him with consternation. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”

He raked his fingers through his unruly hair. “Yeah, I did. Sorry, partner, but I’m just not up for that tonight.”

He didn’t want to be around cops tonight. He didn’t want to face Bill Gerard in a semi-social setting, knowing that first thing tomorrow morning, he’d be called into his office for a good old-fashioned ass-chewing. Which he deserved for losing his cool in court. His outrage was justified, but he’d been wrong to express it then and there. What DeeDee had said was right—he’d hurt their cause, not helped it. And that must have given Savich a lot of satisfaction.

She bent down to pick up two editions of the newspaper from the sidewalk and swatted him in the stomach with them. “You’re going to that dinner,” she said and started up the brick steps to the front door of his town house.

Once the door was unlocked and they were inside, he made a beeline for the wall thermostat and adjusted the AC.

“How come your alarm wasn’t set?” DeeDee asked.

“I keep forgetting the code.”

“You never forget anything. You’re just lazy. It’s stupid not to set it, Duncan. Especially now.”

“Why especially now?”

“Savich. His parting ‘I’ll see you. Soon,’ resonated like a threat.”

“I wish he would come after me. It would give me an excuse.”

“To . . . ?”

“To do whatever was necessary.” He flung his sport jacket onto a chair and made his way down the hallway toward the kitchen at the back of the house. “You know where the guest bedroom and bath are,” he said, indicating the staircase. “Help yourself.”

DeeDee was right on his heels. “You’re going to that dinner with me, Duncan.”

“No, what I’m going to do is have a beer, a shower, a ham sandwich with mustard hot enough to make my eyes water, and—”

“Play the piano?”

“I don’t play the piano.”

“Right,” she said drolly.

“What I was going to say is that maybe I’ll catch a ball game on TV before turning in early. Can’t tell you how much I look forward to sleeping in my own bed after two nights on a jail cot. But what I am not going to do is get dressed up and go to that dinner.”

She planted her hands on her hips. “You promised.”

He opened his fridge and, without even looking, reached inside and took out a can of beer, popping the top and sucking the foam off the back of his hand. “That was before my incarceration.”

“I’m receiving a commendation.”

“Well deserved. Congratulations. You cracked the widow who cracked her husband over the head with a crowbar. Great instinct, partner. I couldn’t be more proud.” He toasted her with his can of beer, then tipped it toward his mouth.

“You’re missing the point. I don’t want to go to a fancy dinner alone. You’re my escort.”

He laughed, sputtering beer. “It isn’t a cotillion. And since when do you care if you’ve got an escort? In fact, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you use that word.”

“If I don’t have an escort, the bubbas will give me hell. Worley and company will say I couldn’t get a date if my life depended on it. You’re my partner, Duncan. It’s your duty to back me up, and that includes helping me save face with the yahoos I’m forced to work with.”

“Call up that cop in the evidence room. What’s his name? He gets flustered every time he looks at you. He’d escort you.”

She frowned with distaste. “He’s got a moist handshake. I hate that.” Looking thoroughly put out, she said, “It’s a few hours of your time, Duncan.”

“Sorry.”

“You just don’t want to be seen with me.”

“What are you talking about? I’m seen with you all the time.”

“But never in a social setting. Some people there might not know I’m your coworker. Heaven forbid anyone mistake me for your date. Being with a woman who’s short, dumpy, and frizzy might damage your reputation as a stud muffin.”

He set his beer on the countertop, hard. “Now you’ve made me mad. First of all, I don’t have that reputation. Secondly, who says you’re short?”

“Worley called me vertically challenged.”

“Worley’s an asshole. Nor are you dumpy. You’re compactly built. Muscular, because you work out like a fiend. And your hair’s frizzy because you perm the hell out of it.”

“Makes it easy to take care of,” she said defensively. “Keeps it out of my eyes. How’d you know it was permed?”

“Because when you get a fresh one, I can smell it. My mom used to give herself perms at home. Stunk up the whole house for days. Dad begged her to go to the beauty parlor, but she said they charge too much.”

“Salon, Duncan. They’re not called beauty parlors anymore.”

“I know that. Mom doesn’t.”

“Do they know about your jail time?”

“Yeah,” he said with some regret. “I used my one phone call to talk to them because they get nervous if they don’t hear from me every few days. They’re proud of what I do, but they worry. You know how it is.”

“Well, not really,” she said, using the sour tone of voice she used whenever her parents were referenced, even tangentially. “Do your folks know about Savich?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I downplay it.”

“What did they think of their son being in jail?”

“They had to bail me out once when I was in high school. Underage drinking. I caught hell that time. This time, Dad commended me for standing up for what I thought was right. Of course I didn’t tell him that I’d used the f-word to get my point across.”

DeeDee smiled. “You’re lucky they’re so understanding.”

“I know.” In truth, Duncan did know how fortunate he was. DeeDee’s relationship with her parents was strained. Hoping to divert her from that unhappy topic, he said, “Did I tell you that Dad’s gone high-tech? Prepares his sermons on a computer. He has the whole Bible on software and can access any scripture with a keystroke. But not everybody is happy about it. One old-timer in his congregation is convinced that the Internet is the Antichrist.”

She laughed. “He may be right.”

“May be.” He picked up his beer and took another drink.

“Not that I was asked, but I’d love a Diet Coke, please.”

“Sorry.” He opened the fridge and reached inside. Then, with a yelp, yanked back his hand. “Whoa!”

“What?”

“I’ve gotta remember to set my alarm.”

DeeDee pushed him aside and looked into the refrigerator. She made a face, and, like Duncan, recoiled. “What is that?”

“If I were to guess, I’d say it’s Freddy Morris’s tongue.”
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
SUMMARY:
Elisa Laird is her husband's pride and joy. A trophy wife ten years his junior, she ably performs the societal duties that her husband's career dictates. Nothing is more important to Judge Laird than his station in the community. And his three passions are well known: his golf game, his bench, and his wife. So when homicide detectives Duncan Hatcher and his partner Dee Dee Bowen are summoned to the Laird's home in the middle of the night, they know that discretion and a quick, thorough investigation are the keys to keeping their jobs. Elise and the Judge claim that Elise fired her pistol at a man who was burglarizing her husband's study. It's an open and shut case, at first glance. But Elise is acting strange. Dee Dee doesn't fall for her "victim" act, instead seeing Elise as a beautiful manipulator whose actions just don't make sense. Despite himself and his partner's warnings, Duncan finds himself falling for the frightened woman, and jeopardizing his own life to find out whether the Judge has hidden reasons for his wife to "disappear."
It's a deadly game filled with lies, seductions, and tragic pasts. Duncan and Elise may spend their lives looking over their shoulders, if they can survive each other's betrayals . . .

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
  1. Water plays a large role in Ricochet. Find examples of the different forms of water found in the novel. Why does Ms. Brown choose to use water as such a prevalent image? What effect does it have on the story and for what might it be a metaphor? How does water help to build tension?

  2. Ms. Brown sets the story in Savannah, Georgia. Does the story have a "southern feel"? What would be the effect on the tale if it were set, for instance, in the desert or in snowy upstate New York? What role does location play, and what other details does Ms. Brown use to create atmosphere?

  3. There seems to be an underlying biblical meaning to the story. Duncan is the child of ministers and there are references made throughout the novel to such things as "redemption" and even to Elise rising from the dead. Discuss the novel as it relates to the bible. Who represents Satan, the snake, etc., and why? Who is "born again" and who gains redemption? Is there a Christ figure in the story?

  4. Although Duncan is a handsome man he doesn't have a girlfriend. What do you think he is waiting for? Beside her physical attributes, why is Duncan attracted to Elise? What does she represent to him? Do they have any similarities that might explain why they fall in love?

  5. Duncan plays the piano, yet he doesn't want anyone to know about his talent. Why is he so secretive about his passion? How does Ms. Brown use the piano to illuminate the development of Duncan's character?

  6. Compare and contrast Dee Dee and Elise. Why doesn't Dee Dee trust Elise? Could they be friends under different circumstances?

  7. Elise decides to marry Cato in order to get revenge for her brother's death. Why might her character do this? Are there any other ways she might have gotten information on Cato and Savich?

  8. Why does Duncan risk his career in order to catch Savich? Does he do it out of love, or does he have a sense of obligation or duty? Is there anything in his background that explains his determination?

  9. Many of the main characters in the novel are flawed, yet they could still be considered heroes. What makes a hero? Who do you think is the hero of Ricochet, and why? Who are the antagonists?

  10. What does power signify in the world of the story? Does each character have his or her own unique power? If so, discuss what they are and their ramifications.

  11. What is the message of the novel? Is revenge a good thing or a bad thing? Do you think Ms. Brown is saying that the end justifies the means? Give some examples of how this is illustrated in the story.


ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB:
  1. Ricochet is set in Georgia, so when discussing the novel treat yourselves to a meal at a southern restaurant. Or if there isn't one nearby, try making your own southern delicacies: http://myweb.cableone.net/howle/page/soudex.htm or http://teriskitchen.com/southern.html. Also check out Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Baking: http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=511205.

  2. Look into other novels/plays set in the South: the works of Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, etc.

  3. For more information on Sandra Brown go to her website: http://www.sandrabrown.net/
About The Author
© Andrew Eccles

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-eight New York Times bestsellers, including Mean Streak, Deadline, Low Pressure, and Smoke Screen. Brown began her writing career in 1981 and since then has published over seventy novels, most of which remain in print. Sandra and her husband, Michael Brown, live in Arlington, Texas.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (July 2007)
  • Length: 544 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416523321

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"A stand-out thriller.... No one does steamy suspense like Brown." -- Publishers Weekly

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