An old, abandoned tunnel system beneath a prestigious New England college becomes the gruesome stalking ground of a serial killer...
The crime scenes are both grim and otherworldly. The bodies of two female students are found mutilated and oddly positioned in the dark labyrinth beneath the school--haunting symbols painted on the walls above them.
In her decade tracking serial killers, FBI special agent Kelly Jones has seen some of the worst humanity can inflict. Yet the tragedy unfolding at her alma mater chills her to the bone. Evidence suggests that the connection between the victims--daughters of powerful men--and the cryptic message behind the killings is rooted in a dark, ancient ritual. As the body count rises, so do the stakes. The killer is taunting Kelly, daring her to follow him down a dangerous path from which only one can emerge.
Though formulaic, the debut novel from Gagnon is saved by smart, appealing lead characters FBI Special Agent Kelly Stone and her partner, Roger Morrow. A distinguished New England college is in turmoil after two female students, each the daughter of rich and powerful families, are found butchered in an old campus tunnel system, with strange Norse symbols painted around them. Joining the agents on the case is former FBI agent Jake Riley, who now works as head of security for one of the dead girls' fathers. As more bodies turn up--and a student goes missing--Kelly and her team find themselves in a race to stop the mysterious killer. While Gagnon doesn't bring much new to the standard serial-killer plot line, she keeps things moving with a brisk pace and likable leads. Kelly's interactions with Roger carry a nice blend of warmth, humor and professionalism, bringing a sense of the real to their partnership. Kelly and Jake's relationship is no less interesting, and Gagnon wisely avoids forcing a romance between them. Gagnon's characters hold promise for an enjoyable series; she just need to find some cases worthy of them. (June)
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May 31, 2007
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Excerpt from The Tunnels by Michelle Gagnon
"What's his name?"
"Chad Peterson, a.k.a. smart-ass punk."
"Great. I can hardly wait." Kelly Jones sighed, quickening her pace as Agent Roger Morrow struggled to keep up.
"Jesus," he huffed. "It's called walking, Jones, not jogging."
"Sorry." She shrugged. "A decade of living in New York will do that to you. Relationship to the victim?"
"None, or so he claims. They hooked up at a party Saturday night, he took her into the tunnels--you know, get her a little scared and you might get lucky, that sort of thing--they heard a noise in the chapel and bolted, got separated, then Prince Charming spent the rest of the night tucked soundly in bed."
"And the girl?"
"Like I said, they got separated."
"And he didn't go back for her? What a hero. Any chance it was him?" "Nah. Normal kid, no history of anything besides the usual prep-school bullshit. Roommate confirms he was in bed, asleep by 2:00 a.m."
"But then frat brothers will say almost anything, won't they? Give me a minute alone with him." She threw open the door of the FBI command trailer. Sunk deep into one of the swiveling chairs was a young man, face buried in his hands. He lifted his head and regarded her forlornly. It was obvious he'd been crying. Pinned to the bulletin board behind him were photos of the girl. It was a common tactic, leaving a suspect alone with the crime-scene photos. The innocent ones crumbled at the images, and the others...nine times out of ten they gave themselves away, unable to fully contain their pride. Chad Peterson appeared to belong to the former group, although Kelly wasn't letting him off the hook yet. She fixed him with a glare and planted herself in front of the chair, peering past him to examine the gruesome images of the crime scene. The trailer was sparsely furnished, desks and swivel chairs bolted to the floor, most of the wall space occupied by dry-erase and bulletin boards. A coffeepot and microwave in the corner served as the kitchen. Right now, all of the boards in the office were empty save for the one she squared off against.
This wasn't her first homicide. Since joining the Bureau a decade earlier, she had investigated dozens of deaths across the country, ranging from prostitutes dumped in shallow graves to children maimed beyond comprehension. But these shots were uniquely horrific. The girl hung from a rope coiled around one of the beams supporting the roof of the tunnel. Her naked body was splayed like a butterfly on display, head dangling forward, eyes open as if gazing down at the terror inflicted on her body. Her jaw hung abnormally slack and distended. Below the rope, her chest was carved open to expose broken ribs; the lungs were missing, an odd trophy to take, Kelly thought. Blood trailed down the girl's leg from another gash on the inside of her upper thigh. The incisions were surgical, probably done with a large hunting knife, Kelly surmised. Scrawled across the bottom of the photos in black ink was, "Anna Varelas, 20 yrs., Cauc female."
"So." She turned to the boy. "Anything you want to tell me?"
"I'm so sorry..." he began, voice strangling with emotion. "When she didn't come back, I just assumed she found another way out, you know? I never thought..." He dissolved into sobs.
Kelly twisted the top off a bottle of water and handed it to him. He took it gratefully and swallowed a few gulps, breath heaving between sips. She watched him silently. Not even De Niro could pull off a performance of this caliber. The kid was definitely clean. Being an asshole didn't make him a killer, she thought grimly. Which unfortunately made her job harder. "Have you seen her before?"
"Sure." He nodded his head slowly. "Around campus. But this is the first time I ever talked to her, I swear. I don't know who could've done this. I feel terrible, I never should have left her alone down there."
"No, you shouldn't have." "I just don't get it. I've been in those tunnels a hundred times, I've never seen anything or anyone--"
"There's a first time for everything." Kelly perched on the edge of the desk facing him and crossed her arms. "So here's what we're going to do. We're going to go through your story, step by step. Anything you can remember, even if it doesn't seem important, you're going to tell me. I want to know everything you said and did, everything you heard and saw, up until the moment you got into bed. You got it?"
He cleared his throat loudly. "Sure." He finished off the water and pushed a stray hair out of his eyes, surreptitiously wiping away the last of his tears. "FBI, huh? I thought you guys only came in for the big cases."
"This is a big case."