Explosive. Pulse-pounding. Heart-racing. From the bestselling author The Wall Street Journal hails as "one terrific writer," Midnight Rambler is the breakout thriller of the year-a brawny, brainy novel of suspense that pairs James Swain's trademark smooth-as-silk prose with a plot bigger and bolder than anything he's done before.
In South Florida, Jack Carpenter is infamous. He's the cop who busted the notorious serial killer Simon Skell-aka the Midnight Rambler-and sacrificed his badge and marriage in the process. Haunted by the Skell case, Carpenter now works as an abduction specialist in Fort Lauderdale, reuniting families with their missing children.
But the body of one of the Midnight Rambler's victims has just been uncovered-and forensic evidence suggests Carpenter jailed the wrong man. With Skell just days away from release, the tarnished hero must reopen the case that shattered his life and the lives of eight murdered women.
As waves of heat and rain wash over the steamy streets, Carpenter races against the clock to reaffirm the case against Skell. Yet the deeper he digs, the more he starts to realize that Skell is just one piece in a terrifying puzzle of predation and murder, just one player in a shocking conspiracy that ranges across the state of Florida. And as the relentless Carpenter draws the net tighter, his enemies prepare to spring a devastating final surprise.
From the seaside bar that Jack Carpenter calls home to the glittering tourist kingdom in Orlando to the funky jungle of Coconut Grove, James Swain unleashes a wild ride into the heart of evil-with the Rolling Stones' "Midnight Rambler" as the throbbing, terrifying soundtrack.
Swain, author of the gambling crime series starring Tony Valentine (Grift Sense, etc.), avoids many of the cliches of the antisocial ex-cop novel in this chilling stand-alone. A specialist in finding missing children, former cop Jack Carpenter was fired from the force for assaulting a prisoner. Broke after a civil lawsuit and estranged from his wife and daughter, he's living in a seedy beachside apartment north of Miami, Fla., with his dog. Then Simon Skell (aka the "Midnight Rambler"), whom Carpenter helped convict for murdering prostitutes, is released from prison on a technicality. Determined to prove Skell guilty, Carpenter is frozen out by the cop on the case, but help comes from an FBI agent whose daughter vanished years earlier. The tension rises as the investigation widens far beyond Skell. Well-defined characters and intricately woven subplots, one involving a nail-biting scene at Disney World, make this a page-turner. 12-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 24, 2007
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Excerpt from Midnight Rambler by James Swain
My cell phone awoke me from a deep sleep. I didn't get a lot of calls. Especially in the middle of the night. Opening my eyes, I stared into the darkness of my rented room. Hanging on the ceiling above my head were the smiling faces of my wife and daughter. They were like after-images of my former life, and they ﬁlled me with sadness. Lifting my arm, I tried to touch them, only to watch them melt away. My phone continued to ring. Grabbing it off the night table, I stared at its face. Caller ID showed a 305 area code, which was Miami/Dade County. The only people I knew in Dade were cops. I decided to answer. "Carpenter here."
"Jack, this is Tommy Gonzalez. Sorry to wake you up."
"What time is it?"
"Six in the morning. I'm in a jam, Jack. I wouldn't have called you otherwise."
Tommy ran the Missing Persons Division of the Miami/Dade Police Department and had gotten his training under me during a stint he did in Broward. Although he was only a few years my junior, I still considered him a kid.
"I'm listening," I said.
"We lost a newborn at Mercy Hospital this morning," Tommy said.
A knifelike pain stabbed my gut. "Abduction?"
"That's what it looks like. I need help. Are you available?"
"I'm giving testimony at a homicide trial tomorrow. I'm supposed to be spending the day preparing for it."
"Is this about the Midnight Rambler?" Tommy asked.
Another pain jabbed my gut, this one much deeper. The Midnight Rambler was my last case as a detective, and it had ruined both my career and my personal life. Each day I awoke wondering if I'd ever escape its dark shadow.
"No, this is another murder case," I said. "I can come down and help you, but I can't stay all day."
"That's fantastic," Tommy said. "What's your going rate these days?"
I was wide awake now, and I propped my back against the wall, which was cool against my bare ﬂesh. My rent was due next week, and I was ﬂat broke.
"Four hundred and ﬁfty bucks," I said.
"How'd you come up with that ﬁgure?"
"Need. Now tell me what happened."
"Baby was born yesterday, name's Isabella Marie Vasquez. Parents are a couple of well-known architects, built those fancy downtown skyscrapers that look like giant kid's toys. Isabella got fed at four a.m. and was gone from her crib when a nurse checked ﬁfteen minutes later. None of the other newborns in the maternity ward were touched. I sent my best investigator, and she combed the ward and interviewed the nursing staff, doctors, and cleaning people. No one saw anything, heard anything, or knows anything."
"Think it's an inside job?"
"I don't know what to think," Tommy said, sounding exasperated. "Mercy is one of the best hospitals in south Florida. I go there every year with a group from NCMEC, and we lecture the staff and administrators on how to lessen the likelihood of an abduction. When it comes to protecting babies, they know their stuff."
"So they've hardened the target."
NCMEC, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, had done more to prevent child abductions than any other grassroots organization in the country. They lectured school and hospital staffs on how to make children safe, or what they called hardening the target. I didn't like the sound of what Tommy had described, and climbed out of bed. My dog, sleeping beside me, got up as well.
"I'm leaving right now," I said. "Depending on trafﬁc, I should be there within the hour."