Readers loved Sarah Armstrong, the feisty and vulnerable profiler in Kathryn Casey's first mystery,Singularity. She's back in this second book in the series with her hands full with two cases at once: A persistent and potentially lethal stalker pursues pop mega-star Cassidy Collins, and a high-energy Houston businesswoman is found dead in her house.
Though the businesswoman's death is being called a suicide, when Sarah is shown photographs of the scene, something seems off. It looks too perfect, almost staged, and Billie Cox apparently had every reason to live. The victim's sister is convinced Billie was murdered and urges Sarah to take a closer look. During her investigation, Sarah uncovers a multimillion-dollar scam and traces a trail of greed to Billie's murderer.
Meanwhile, teenage idol Cassidy receives threatening e-mails and text messages and hears creepy whispers over her headset at performances. Cassie's next performance is at a Houston rodeo, for which her handlers request extra security. Sarah once again teams up with FBI agent David Garrity, and together they plot to outwit and capture the stalker, but at the concert the unthinkable happens. . . .
Kathryn Casey spins a tight plot with memorable characters and great action scenes, while paying close attention to Sarah's struggles as a widow and mother, to create a multilayered, exciting, and satisfying read.
Cassidy Collins, a 16-year-old superstar who's one part Miley Cyrus and one part Britney Spears, fears for her life in Casey's enjoyable if uneven second mystery to feature Lt. Sarah Armstrong, one of only two female Texas Rangers (after 2008's Singularity). When Argus, a creepy cyberstalker, gets way too personal before Cassidy's upcoming Texas concert tour, Sarah investigates, along with her estranged FBI profiler sweetie, David Garrity. Meanwhile, 36-year-old Elizabeth Cox, a Houston oil heiress, appears to have committed suicide. Elizabeth's sister, Faith, becomes convinced someone shot Elizabeth to death after Faith receives "messages" from her dead sister. Back home on the ranch, Sarah's daughter, Maggie, worries about her ill horse, who delivers a fragile foal. While Casey successfully taps into celebrity-obsessed culture as Sarah uncovers Cassidy's tragic roots, the less than compelling murder case dilutes the book's overall impact. (July) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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July 20, 2009
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Excerpt from Blood Lines by Kathryn Casey
Hidden in a below-stage passageway, Cassidy Collins felt the rumble of the SRO audience. A week earlier, Tina Turner rocked Las Vegas's opulent Colosseum at Caesars Palace, but tonight the fans stomped and whistled for Cassidy, the newest teen sensation.
"Cassie! Cassie! Cassie!" they chanted.
How long would it be? When would the star of the evening appear?
The warm-up act sauntered off, and Cassidy's team took over. The stage manager triggered a pulley system that positioned the platform bearing the twelve-piece band's instruments, as the soundman turned on the mixer, lighting up the long panel of switches and levers plugged into the theater's sophisticated audio system. At the same time, chain-hoisted spots clicked into place, and crew members slid out scenery, constructing a make-believe jungle, replete with trees bearing glittering leaves. As the work finished, the lights flashed, and the audience hurried to take their seats.
"We're ready," the stage manager shouted into his walkie-talkie.
Two performances a week, twenty weeks a year, Cassidy had experienced it many times, but she always felt the excitement of the big shows, the spectacles of light and sound. Over the past two years, traveling from city to city, she'd memorized every detail, learned to listen for anything out of place. She had to. It was, after all, her show, her life.
Yet on this particular night, Cassidy feared that the cries of the crowd masked danger.
The percussion section kicked in, rumbling drums in sync with a recorded track of rainforest sounds: growling cats, pounding rain, croaking frogs, screeching birds, and buzzing insects.
The audience hushed as a single beam of light appeared center stage, shining down from the rafters directly into the shaft where Cassidy waited. It was time, and the teenage superstar slipped into the nylon cocoon coated with 14-karat gold that lay at her feet, pulled it up to cover her from head to toes. That accomplished, Germaine Dunn, Cassidy's stylist, climbed a ladder and sprinkled flakes of gold foil, covering Cassie's long blond hair, her costume, even the outside of the gossamer cocoon. Onstage, the gold would splinter the spotlights into rainbows, radiating into the crowd. With Cassie's entrance, the theater would shine as if doused in light cast from thousands of clear white diamonds.
"Ready?" Germaine asked.
"I hate this stuff," Cassie said, referring to the precious specks that drifted about her. "Always bothers my eyes."
"Keep them closed until the cocoon drops," Germaine advised, as she did every night, all for no good. Even though Cassie followed instructions, a spec of the gold invariably worked its way out of her hair and costume and irritated her wide green eyes, so much so that she couldn't wear her contacts onstage. Yet, the effect was worth it. From the audience, Cassie's appearance would be spellbinding, breathtaking. Every teen magazine from Tiger Beat to BOP had gushed over the show's hundred-grand, opening-act costume.
"Sure," Cassie said, not really meaning it. "Let's go."
A crack of thunder echoed via the soundtrack, and the keyboard guy hit the opening notes, leading to a renewed wave of squeals from the audience, as the transparent fly harness strapped about Cassidy's chest lurched, and she slowly rose. At stage level, she felt a slight breeze as she entered the open theater. The platform she stood on stopped level with the floor, but the harness pulled her higher, until Cassie dangled above the stage, exposed and vulnerable.
It's just another night, Cassie thought. No big deal.
Her stomach didn't believe her. It cramped tight, and she fought a building anxiety. Breathe, she thought. Breathe.
As hard as she tried, Cassie's admonitions didn't quiet her fears. He's out there, she thought. He's watching.
A renewed surge of screams, whistles, and catcalls from the audience as the wires pulled Cassie higher. The band played the intro to her latest hit, "Young Girls," and Cassie released the golden cocoon from her right hand, bringing it out of the top, as if stretching, giving the audience a first glimpse. They responded with a sharp gasp. At the second chord, Cassie let go of the costume, allowing it to fall. The precious wrap slipped past her head, her shoulders, and breasts, dropping onto the stage below. The shrieks of the audience swallowed the thud of the costume hitting the stage, as a black-clothed stagehand emerged from the shadows to scoop it up and whisk it away.
Suspended high over the stage, Cassie opened her eyes. Clad in a shimmering leotard, she contracted her arms and legs into a fetal position, and then slowly, deliberately unfolded her body. Off stage someone triggered a computerized command and iridescent wings, the orange and black of a monarch butterfly, unrolled from her back. Cassidy shook out her long blond hair, and bits of the gold foil scattered in the spotlight like glowing rain, prodding young voices to a painful cry.
From the audience, Cassie appeared encased in a sparkling pyramid of pure gold light.
"Hello, Las Vegas," she shouted, her voice amplified by the microphone in the thin, flesh-colored tube near her lips.
"Cassie! Cassie! Cassie! Cassie!" the audience responded.
He's out there, she thought. He's out there, somewhere in that crowd.
The theater throbbed with anticipation, yet Cassidy Collins hesitated. She blinked, a fleck of gold sending tears down her cheeks. The music grew louder, but she felt scattered, and before she realized it her prompt had passed. The band covered for her. Another opener, a second cue, and Cassie remained silent. She knew the song. She'd written it. She opened her mouth, but only silence.
The audience screamed again, their young voices impatient. Determined to take control, Cassie nervously laughed. She knew what they wanted. Her building sense of panic bounced off their exhilaration. She, like the audience, rode a jagged edge.
"Were you expecting something?" she taunted.
The young voices in the audience boiled over, as Cassie's mechanized wings beat at the excitement-charged air. Her arms and legs extended, she peered down apprehensively at the faceless crowd. Again the music poured around her, again her signal to join in, but she still wasn't singing. She flew above the audience, as below her the tweens reached upward, hoping to claim her as their own. Abruptly, Cassie turned in midair and flew back over the stage. Her Peter Pan-like flight ending, the guide wires lowered her. Her dancers rushed forward. They reached out to cushion her descent, yet Cassie's eyes searched the audience, watching for danger. She missed her mark and came down hard, stumbling.
One of the dancers grabbed her. "It's okay," he said. "I've got you."
Another night, Cassie would have been grateful. She might have even enjoyed it. The young man was handsome and devoted to her. Tonight was different. She was not in the mood for hollow reassurance. She had to pull herself together. It was time.
As the band circled the music around yet again, Cassie stood her ground, staring out into the crowd, tears cascading down her cheeks, willing herself not to be afraid. "Young girls," she sang to the opening chord. "It's time to live, to break free and fly."
The music pounding, Cassidy Collins tried to lose herself in the song, yet without success. She danced and the troupe of young men shadowed her well-rehearsed moves. But the superstar faltered. As familiar as it all was, she couldn't keep focused. All she could think of was the stranger whose eyes watched her from the audience. He was there, that she knew. She fought back flashes of what he'd said he'd do to her.
She had to control her fear. Cassidy reminded herself that any girl in the audience would have gladly traded places with her. Any girl would walk away from her mundane life for a shot at what Cassidy Collins had: power, money, and fame. Yet, the teen whose face graced magazine covers around the world still couldn't put him out of her mind, the stalker, the man who watched her, terrified her.
He's going to kill me, she thought. And she knew it like she knew the streets of the trailer park where she grew up. She knew it like she knew the lines alcohol traced in her mother's face before forty. Cassie knew it like she knew every detail of her mother's agonizing death from liver disease.
No one else understands. But I do, she thought. That man's going to kill me.
As she danced across the stage, fighting to retain control, Cassidy considered the weeks ahead, especially two upcoming concerts in Texas.
That's where it will happen, she realized. That's what he's waiting for. And when he comes for me, no one will be able to stop him.