The Right Side

A Novel

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About The Book

“Brilliant. Deeply felt, but totally under control. I loved it.” —Stephen King

“A great suspense novel, and so much more. You won’t forget the heroic LeAnne Hogan—and the same goes for her dog! Not to be missed. —Harlan Coben

In this riveting new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie mystery series, a deeply damaged female soldier home from the war in Afghanistan becomes obsessed with finding a missing girl, gains an unlikely ally in a stray dog, and encounters new perils beyond the combat zone.

LeAnne Hogan went to Afghanistan as a rising star in the military, and came back a much lesser person, mentally and physically. Now missing an eye and with half her face badly scarred, she can barely remember the disastrous desert operation that almost killed her. She is confused, angry, and suspects the fault is hers, even though nobody will come out and say it.

Shattered by one last blow—the sudden death of her hospital roommate, Marci—LeAnne finds herself on a fateful drive across the country, reflecting on her past and seeing no future. Her native land is now unfamiliar, recast in shadow by her one good eye, her damaged psyche, and her weakened body. Arriving in the rain-soaked small town in Washington state that Marci had called home, she makes a troubling discovery: Marci’s eight-year-old daughter has vanished. When a stray dog—a powerful, dark, unreadable creature, no one’s idea of a pet—seems to adopt LeAnne, a surprising connection is formed and something shifts inside her. As she becomes obsessed with finding Marci’s daughter, LeAnne and her inscrutable canine companion are drawn into danger as dark and menacing as her last Afghan mission. This time she has a strange but loyal fellow traveler protecting her blind side.

Enthralling, suspenseful, and psychologically nuanced, The Right Side introduces one of the most unforgettable protagonists in modern fiction: isolated, broken, disillusioned—yet still seeking redemption and purpose—LeAnne takes hold of you and never lets go.

Excerpt

The Right Side CHAPTER ONE
“Just want to make sure I’ve got your name right.” The man—Machado, read the tag hung around his neck—swiveled sideways to check his laptop. The chair made a squeaky sound, intolerable to the woman sitting on the other side of the desk. It sparked a headache in the spot where her headaches got sparked these days, a headache that then blossomed like an explosion in slow motion, so slow you might have thought it would peter out, or be easily stopped. She knew better.

Machado—Dr. Ernest Machado, Psychiatric Services, according to the name tag—squinted at the screen. “Still getting used to these darn progressives,” he said, tapping his glasses.

“Poor you,” she said.

Dr. Machado shot her a speedy glance, returned to the screen, nudged his glasses a little higher up on his nose.

That glance? Furtive, she thought. Or had she said it aloud, called him furtive to his face? A toss-up, and she really didn’t give a shit.

“LeAnne Hogan?” he said.

“Yes.”

“LeAnne all one word?”

“Yes.”

“But with the A capped?”

“That a problem?”

“Oh, no, no, no. You should see some of the names we get here.” Dr. Machado tapped at the keyboard, then squeaked back around to face her. She thought of killing him with her bare hands, but it was only one of so many thoughts in her head at that moment, scarcely noticeable.

He gazed at her in the new off-center way people used on her now. “How about we begin by you telling me why you’re here? Can I get you water or something? Coffee?”

“Why I’m here?”

“Your understanding of why you’re here.”

She shrugged. “I was sent,” she said. “Referred.”

“Right, of course, but . . . but in a larger sense, LeAnne.”

“A larger sense? Isn’t it part of the protocol?”

Dr. Machado made a note on a desk pad. It looked like one of those prescription pads. She was on Paxil, prednisone, penicillin, and Percocet, and those weren’t even all of the Ps.

“Right again,” said Dr. Machado. “But what is it you’d like to accomplish? That’s what I’m getting at. If we know your goals, we can help you reach them.”

She nodded. “Coffee. With milk and lots of sugar.”

Dr. Machado blinked. He rose and went to a Mr. Coffee in the corner.

“At least two packets. Three’s better.”



Initial Evaluation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Premilitary History:

1: Describe family structure and environment where raised (identify constellation of family members and quality of relationships):

“You got the craziest laugh in the whole goddamn world,” Daddy said.

Which only made LeAnne laugh harder.

“What’s so funny?”

“Everything!” She took a couple of short, quick steps, then ran off a series of cartwheels, ending with a twist and a two-footed landing, stuck like totally, easy as pie.

“Whoa. Where’d you learn that?”

“Gymnastics!”

“Yeah?” Daddy reached into the truck, took the .22 off the rack. “Here,” he said. “Take Little P. I got the cooler.”

Little P, short for Little Protector, was what Daddy called the .22. Daddy was big on protection: “It’s what we do in this family going way, way back. All the way to the Civil War, both sides.” LeAnne took Little P from him, checked the safety—numero uno first goddamn thing every time, like he’d told her—then held it in the proper way, by both hands and with the muzzle pointing down at a forty-five-degree angle, which was how she’d learned degrees, resulting in an A-plus on the class participation half of her Exploring Science grade. Then she and her daddy walked up a long slope where some big saguaros grew, Daddy carrying the cooler. There were bullet holes in a few of those saguaros, always at the tops where the heads would be, if saguaros had heads, but she and Daddy were blameless.

“What the hell is wrong with some people?” he said.

“Does it hurt the saguaros?”

“What do think? Look at them. Those holes seem right to you?”

“No. But I meant does it give them pain?”

Daddy inclined his head toward her. He had the best face you’d ever want to see, a big rough face with watchful eyes that shone when things were going well, like now, out in the desert. “Good question,” he said.

They walked on, reached the top of the slope, sat down. Daddy lifted the cooler lid, cracked open a cold one. The other side of the slope was very steep and rocky, all the way down to a dry wash with two cottonwoods growing along the near bank. An old rusted-out car shell was parked between the cottonwoods, if you could say parked about such a wheel-less ruin. But that was how it looked to LeAnne, like someone had been out driving and ended up parking in a shady spot on some long ago nice day for a spin.

“Nineteen-forty-seven Buick Roadmaster. My uncle Rodney had one, if I remember right.”

“Who’s Uncle Rodney?”

“Great uncle.”

“What’s great about him?”

“Christ. Just means . . . forget what it means. Doesn’t matter. A hopeless juicer. Went boots up when I was just a kid, younger than you. Roadmaster was long departed by then. I only know from old photos.”

“Can I see them?”

Daddy shook his head. “All gone.”

“In the fire?”

“Yup.”

Daddy tossed the empty into the cooler, helped himself to another cold one, and handed her one of those gingerbread men with mint-green eyes that Mom baked and LeAnne loved. The fire was a big deal in family history, burning down the house Daddy had grown up in, outside of Flagstaff, and killing his parents, meaning LeAnne’s grandparents. Daddy was overseas at the time, just getting started in the service, and hadn’t even met Mom yet, meaning this was way before LeAnne was born, so she’d never known that set of grandparents. For different reasons, she didn’t know the other set, either.

“Okay,” Daddy said, taking a nice sip. “Enough chitchat. Let’s see what you can do.”

“Just sitting like this?”

“Why not?” Daddy gestured down at the 1947 Buick Roadmaster. “Right side taillight still intact?”

“What’s intact?”

“Unbroken.”

LeAnne peered down. She had very sharp eyesight, according to Dr. Ralpundi, who did the preseason examinations for all the sports teams—20/15 in her left eye, even better in her right. “Yeah.”

“Break it.”

The right, of course, was her shooting eye, although she kept the left open, Daddy-style. “How else are you gonna know when someone comes after you outta left field?” Which never failed to get her laughing, like suddenly baseball was turning up in your life.

LeAnne raised Little P. “Let the weapon find the target,” Daddy always said. Also pretty funny, to LeAnne’s way of thinking. Because how could it do that on its own? The weapon was just a thing. But she’d learned early on that it turned out to be kind of true. She peered through the sight with her right eye, not looking at the distant taillight at all, just at the space inside the little V, let out every puff of her breath, stopped time, and in the moment before time would start up again, she pulled the trigger, pulling not being the right word. Pulling was too strong. This was more like the force you’d use to press the thingamajig at the top of a ballpoint pen to make the tip stick out.

Crack. But not a loud crack. This was only a .22, after all. Neither was there much in the way of recoil, just the slightest of kicks, like a baby in the mommy’s tummy. Then came the soundless shattering of the taillight, and tiny red shards went flying in the sunshine. Real tiny, like solid blood drops. Weapon finds target.

“Yup,” Daddy said.

Then it got very quiet, middle-of-the-desert quiet mixed in with that quiet that comes when the shooting stops. “Maybe it’s the same one,” LeAnne said.

“Huh?”

“Great uncle Rodney’s nineteen-forty-seven Buick Roadmaster.”

“Where’d you get a notion like that?”

“Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad. Why’d I be mad? I’m just saying where’d you get the goddamn notion?”

“It popped up in my mind.”

He looked down at her again. Then he rumpled her hair. “Got a head of hair on you.”

“Mom says there’s nothing to be done with it.”

“She does, does she?”

“A rat’s nest.”

“That what she calls it?”

“Uh-huh.”

Daddy turned away, drained the cold one, tossed it in the cooler, and was reaching for another when he paused. “Gimme that thing,” he said.

LeAnne clicked the safety into place, handed him the .22.

“Maybe that is Rodney’s old Roadmaster, after all,” he said.

“Really, Daddy?” She came close to jumping up and down.

“Better odds than the lottery. Lottery’s like millions to one. But the Roadmaster? Think about it. How many forty-seven’s got sold in Arizona? A few thousand?”

“So the odds would be a few thousand to one? Is that how you figure out odds?”

Daddy didn’t answer. Instead, he stepped close to the edge of the ridge and yelled, “Hey, Rodney! Heads up!” And then, holding the .22 kind of casually, like Little P was only a toy, he took a series of shots, so quick it was almost like automatic fire, and a line of holes appeared all along the side of the Roadmaster, so perfectly and evenly spaced that they might have been part of the design.



“Here you go,” Dr. Machado said.

“Huh?” said LeAnne. She hadn’t seen his approach—he’d come out of left field; actually, right. She took the coffee, didn’t say thanks—seemed like too much effort, plus who was this asshole anyway? And why was she here? She took a sip.

“Enough sugar?” he said.

What was that supposed to mean? She foresaw a hot and splashy ending to this interview. If that was what it was.

“Play any baseball?” she said.

“I’m sorry?”

“You. Baseball. Did you play?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

LeAnne shrugged. Then came silence—not that anyplace in the hospital was ever silent, or even close—while Dr. Machado sat back down on the other side of the desk. He looked at her. She looked at a framed photo on the wall behind him: Dr. Machado, smiling in a polo shirt, with wife and two little boys, all smiling, all in polo shirts. She considered asking him if he’d played any polo.

“How about we begin at the beginning?” Dr. Machado said.

She turned to him.

“With your early life—father and mother, where you grew up, et cetera.”

She kept herself from saying, Let’s begin with et cetera but offered nothing in its stead.

Dr. Machado riffled though some papers. His fingernails were in great shape, salon quality. She didn’t want to think about hers, so she didn’t. Kept her mind far distant from her fingernails, especially the two that were still growing back in.

“I see here that your father was also military. Master Sergeant Rex Hogan, Green Berets.” Dr. Machado looked up. “Tell me about him.”

“There’s not much to tell,” LeAnne said.

“Checking the dates here, he seems to have left the army when you were . . . what? Eight or nine? What sort of work did he do after that?”

“Doesn’t it say?”

Dr. Machado nodded. “But it’s always nice to confirm the written data.”

LeAnne had no interest in that.

“Can you describe your relationship with him?” Dr. Machado went on. “Or would you prefer to start somewhere else, with your mother, for example?”

LeAnne rose. “I’d prefer to go back to my room. I have a headache.”

Dr. Machado placed his hands flat on the desk. “Sorry to hear that. We’ll reschedule. Would you like me to get someone to help you?”

“Help me?”

“Escort you back.”

“To where?”

“Your room.”

He said it like: Where else? Yeah, she got that, got it good. She kept an eye—ha!—on his hands, flat on the desk: Yes, a complete asshole. Soft, soft hands. They reminded her, the way opposites sometimes will, of those hands that had appeared so suddenly out from under a burqa.

“I don’t need any help,” LeAnne said.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Right Side includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

In this riveting new novel by New York Times bestselling author Spencer Quinn, a traumatized veteran becomes obsessed with finding a missing girl, gains an unlikely ally in a stray dog, and encounters new perils beyond the combat zone.

LeAnne Hogan went to Afghanistan as a rising star in the military, and came back a much lesser person, mentally and physically. Now missing an eye and with half her face badly scarred, she can barely remember the disastrous desert operation that almost killed her. She is confused, angry, and suspects the fault is hers, even though nobody will come out and say it.

Shattered by one last blow—the sudden death of her hospital roommate, Marci—LeAnne embarks on a fateful drive across the country, reflecting on her past and seeing no future. Her native land is now unfamiliar, recast in shadow by her one good eye, her damaged psyche, and her weakened body. Arriving in the rain-soaked small town in Washington State that Marci had called home, she makes a troubling discovery: Marci’s eight-year-old daughter has vanished. When a stray dog—a powerful, dark, unreadable creature, no one’s idea of a pet—seems to adopt LeAnne, a surprising connection is formed and something shifts inside her. Feeling a sense of duty to find Marci’s daughter, LeAnne and her inscrutable canine companion are drawn into danger as dark and menacing as her last Afghan mission. But this time she has a strange, loyal fellow traveler protecting her blind side.

Enthralling, suspenseful, and psychologically astute, The Right Side introduces one of the most unforgettable protagonists in modern fiction: isolated, broken, disillusioned—yet still seeking redemption and purpose—LeAnne takes hold of the reader and never lets go.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. From the opening pages, LeAnne is introduced as a tough woman who has some very real demons. Did your opinion of LeAnne change as the book progressed and you learned more about her past? If so, why?

2. It comes up more than once that LeAnne is not a “dog person.” What is it about this particular dog that makes LeAnne feel differently? How does their relationship progress over time?

3. What are the reasons for LeAnne to impulsively drive across the country to Bellville, Washington?

4. Do you think Marci and LeAnne would have been friends outside the hospital? Why or why not? Describe their relationship. In what ways does Marci influence LeAnne throughout the novel?

5. Although LeAnne is initially dismissive of her PTSD condition, she begins to come to terms with this diagnosis. What causes LeAnne to change her mind?

6. Describe LeAnne’s relationship with her family and how it affects her general outlook on the world. How did her father’s death shape her character?

7. Describe the book’s narrative style. How would you characterize it? How does it play into your perception of LeAnne, or influence your understanding of events?

8. How is LeAnne’s character revealed by her interactions with the people in Bellville? In what ways do Bellville’s citizens change LeAnne? Use specific examples to demonstrate your point.

9. Explain the significance of the title of the book. What is “the right side”? Why do you think the author decided on that as the title?

10. Why is LeAnne drawn to the missing child investigation? Do you think she would have stayed to investigate if it hadn’t been Marci’s child who was missing?

11. How do LeAnne’s literal battle scars affect the way she sees herself and her self-esteem?

12. What role does PTSD play in this book?

13. Discuss the structure of this book. What is the effect of alternating between LeAnne’s current life and her childhood? Did learning about LeAnne’s past help you better understand her current actions?

14. What did you make of LeAnne’s reunion with Katie at the end of the book? Were you surprised at her attitude toward Katie? Do you think justice was served or thwarted?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Author Spencer Quinn is the New York Times bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie series. Read one of his other novels, then compare and contrast the two books? In what ways are they similar? How has Quinn’s writing style evolved?

2. Write an epilogue about what happens next for LeAnne. Share with the group, and explain why you came up with this specific set of events.

3. Read up on PTSD. How accurately do you think PTSD was portrayed in the novel? Discuss with the group.

4. Visit Spencer Quinn’s website at www.spencequinn.com to learn more about him and his books.

About The Author

Randi Baird

Spencer Quinn is the bestselling author of eight Chet and Bernie mystery series, as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling Bowser and Birdie series for middle-grade readers. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife Diana—and dogs Audrey and Pearl. Keep up with him by visiting SpenceQuinn.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (June 2017)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501118401

Raves and Reviews

"Brilliant. Deeply felt, but totally under control. I loved it."

– Stephen King

"A great suspense novel, and so much more. You won't forget the heroic LeAnne Hogan -- and the same goes for her dog! Not to be missed."

– Harlan Coben

"Perfectly detailed...Quinn realistically depicts the way civilians fail to comprehend a warrior's mindset. The despondency of PTSD [is] portrayed with such brutal intensity...a psychological drama."

– Kirkus

"Read this book."

– The Bark Magazine

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More books from this author: Spencer Quinn

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