Chris Mooney, author of the thrillers Deviant Ways and Remembering Sarah, delivers an absorbing new novel about a female crime-scene investigator and the killer from her past, who is only now emerging from the shadows.
Darby McCormick had known Melanie Cruz and Stacey Stephens forever. Best friends since childhood, the threesome had survived high school together. But one night in the woods, drinking beers to celebrate Melanie's sixteenth birthday, the three unsuspecting teenagers witnessed the grisly murder of a woman. Darby and her friends fled the scene, but they left behind a clue to their whereabouts, which only simplified the killer's revenge. It didn't take long to find them. This time, only Darby survived. Twenty-five years later, Darby is a crime-scene investigator for the Boston Police Department. When a young woman is abducted from her home in the middle of the night, Darby finds an unexpected witness -- a woman dressed in rags hiding behind garbage cans kept underneath the back porch of the victim's house. The woman is dangerously malnourished and is so distraught, so terrified, she believes she is still locked inside a dark prison cell -- and that Darby is one of her fellow prisoners. Darby's investigation reveals that the woman, Rachel Swanson, has been missing for more than five years. And there are others. As Darby tries to get Rachel to talk about the other missing women and the horrors she endured, the killer known as Traveler is brought to light. As the race to find him heats up, Darby finds herself trying to unravel forensic clues about the case while attempting to uncover the existence of a killer who has eluded the police and FBI for more than two decades. A killer who, years ago, introduced Darby to violence and death. A killer who will use every means necessary to protect himself and to keep the missing women from ever being found. A breathless, gripping read from beginning to end, The Missing is an unforgettable story about a courageous woman whose past has literally come back to haunt her. Told with tremendous style at a breakneck pace, this is thriller writing at its best.
At the start of this competent but unoriginal thriller from Mooney (Deviant Ways), it's 1984 and teenager Darby McCormick is hanging out in the woods with her friends Melanie Cruz and Stacey Stephens when they stumble across a man killing a woman. Darby calls the police, which sets in motion events that lead to Stacey being murdered and Melanie abducted. Fast forward to 2007: Darby, with a doctorate in criminal psychology, is working as a crime scene investigator for the Boston Crime Lab. When Darby finds herself investigating another missing girl, Carol Cranmore, she vows to find the perpetrator and save Carol. The fiendishly clever killer is always two steps ahead, while Darby and her handsome partner, Jackson "Coop" Cooper, must struggle with the usual bureaucratic snafus, disbelieving supervisors and obstructive FBI agents. There are twists and turns aplenty, but they're all based on familiar formulas, including the final, de rigueur chase through the killer's basement torture chamber. (Mar.)
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March 19, 2007
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Excerpt from The Missing by Chris Mooney
Darby McCormick grabbed Melanie by the arm and pulled her into the woods with no trails. Nobody came out this way. The real attraction was behind them, across Route 86, the biking and hiking trails along Salmon Brook Pond.
"Why are you taking me out here?" Melanie asked.
"I told you," Darby said. "It's a surprise."
"Don't worry," Stacey Stephens said. "We'll have you back at the convent in no time."
Twenty minutes later, Darby dropped her backpack on the spot where she and Stacey often came to hang out and smoke -- a sloping wall of dirt littered with empty beer cans and cigarette butts.
Not wanting to ruin her new pair of Calvin Klein jeans, Darby tested the ground to make sure it was dry before sitting down. Stacey, of course, just plunked her butt right down in the dirt. There was something inherently grubby about Stacey, with her heavy mascara, hand-me-down jeans and T-shirts always worn a size too tight -- nothing was ever quite able to mask the sense of desperation that hovered around her like Pig-Pen's dirt cloud.
Darby had known Melanie since, well, since forever, really, the two of them having grown up on the same street. And while Darby could recall all the events and stories she had shared with Mel, she couldn't for the life of her remember how she had met Stacey, or how the three of them had become such good friends. It was as if Stacey had suddenly appeared one day. She was with them all the time during study hall, at football games and parties. Stacey was fun. She told dirty jokes and knew the popular kids and had gone as far as third base, whereas Mel was a lot like the Hummel figurines Darby's mother collected -- precious, fragile things that needed to be stored in a safe place.
Darby unzipped her backpack and handed out the beers.
"What are you doing?" Mel asked.
"Introducing you to Mr. Budweiser," Darby said.
Mel fumbled with the charms on her bracelet. She always did that when she was nervous or scared.
"Come on, Mel, take it. He won't bite."
"No, I mean, why are you doing this?"
"To celebrate your birthday, dumbass," Stacey said, cracking open her beer.
"And for getting your license," Darby said. "Now we have someone to take us to the mall."
"Won't your dad notice these cans are missing?" Mel asked Stacey.
"He has six cases in the downstairs fridge, he won't miss six lousy beers." Stacey lit a cigarette and tossed the pack to Darby. "But if he and my mom came home and caught us drinking, I wouldn't be able to sit or see straight for a week."
Darby held up her can. "Happy Birthday, Mel -- and congratulations."
Stacey drained half her beer. Darby took a long sip. Melanie sniffed her beer first. She always smelled anything new before tasting it.
"It tastes like soggy toast," Mel said.
"Keep drinking, it will taste better -- and you'll feel better too."
Stacey pointed to what looked like a Mercedes snaking its way up Route 86. "I'm going to be driving one of those someday," she said.
"I can totally see you as a chauffeur," Darby said.
Stacey shot Darby the finger. "No, shitbird, somebody's going to be driving me around in one of those 'cause I'm going to marry a rich guy."
"I hate to be the one to break this to you," Darby said, "but there are no rich guys in Belham."
"That's why I'm going to New York City. And the man I marry is not only going to be drop-dead gorgeous, he's going to treat me right. I'm talking dinners at nice restaurants, nice clothes, any kind of car I want -- he's even going to have his own plane to fly us to our fabulous beach house in the Caribbean. What about you, Mel? What kind of guy are you going to marry? Or is your heart still set on being a nun?"
"I'm not going to become a nun," Mel said and, as if to prove her point, took a long sip.
"Does that mean you finally gave up the goods to Michael Anka?"
Darby nearly choked on her beer. "You've been making out with Booger Boy?"
"He stopped that back in the third grade," Mel said. "He doesn't, you know, pick it anymore."
"Lucky for you," Darby said, and Stacey howled with laughter.
"Come on," Mel said. "He's nice."
"Of course he's nice," Stacey said. "Every guy acts nice in the beginning. Once he gets what he wants from you, he'll treat you like yesterday's garbage."
"That's not true," Darby said, thinking about her father -- Big Red, they used to call him, just like the gum. When her father was alive, he always held open the door for her mother. On Friday nights, her parents would come home from dinner and Big Red would put on one of his Frank Sinatra records and sometimes dance with her mother, check to cheek, as he sang about how those were the days.
"Trust me, Mel, it's all an act," Stacey said. "That's why you've got to stop being so mousy. You keep acting that way, they'll take advantage of you every time, trust me."
Then Stacey started in on another one of her lectures about boys and all the sneaky things they did to trick you into giving them what they wanted.