FIFTH VICTIM

Charlie Fox book nine

Synopsis

With the life of her lover, Sean, still hanging in the balance, former Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, throws herself into her only means of escape − her work.

On Long Island, the playground of New York’s wealthy and privileged, she is tasked with protecting the wayward daughter of rich businesswoman, Caroline Willner.

It seems that an alarming number of the girl’s circle of friends have been through kidnap ordeals, and Charlie quickly discovers that the girl, Dina, is fascinated by the clique formed by the earlier victims. Is that why she seems to be going out of her way to invite capture?

". . .a gripping tale of nonstop action . . . this is hard-edged fiction at its best "

Michelle Leber
Starred Booklist review

Sticking close to her client at parties aboard luxury yachts, glittering events at the local country club, and out horse-riding along the exclusive sands is all part of the job for Charlie, but she comes to worry that Dina’s thrill-seeking tendencies will put both of them in real danger.

And just as her worst fears are realised, Charlie receives devastating personal news. The man who put Sean in his coma is on the loose.

She is faced with the choice between her loyalties to her client and avenging Sean, but the two goals are soon inextricably linked. The decisions Charlie makes now, and the path she chooses to follow, will have far-reaching consequences.

FIFTH VICTIM opens with Charlie Fox desperately digging on a beach and dreading what she might find. Here is that very beach, south of the lighthouse at Montauk Point on Long Island. Although it is largely shingle rather than sand, there were enough areas of the soft stuff to make not only burial possible but discovery more likely.

Driving past the Long Island beach-front properties was an education, but showed that my fictional wealthy family would be right at home there. I’d worried that I’d made their property too grand. After seeing what was out there, worried that I hadn’t made it grand enough.

From the author's notebook

The original idea for FIFTH VICTIM came from a magazine article passed on to me by my sister, about the secret lives of the ultra rich. I can’t say too much more than that without giving away the plot, but the article sat in the back of my mind for a while before the opportunity came to write this book.

I wanted to set part of the story on Long Island, because it seemed the archetypal home of the wealthy. Actually going there was not a disappointment, seeing some of the massive homes on the shoreline, with nothing between them and Africa but several thousand miles of Atlantic ocean.

The character of Caroline Willner was, I freely admit, originally going to be male. But when I was invited to the Mayhem in the Midlands convention in Omaha, Nebraska in 2009, I put a character name into the charity auction. The winning bidder was Dina Willner, who was torn between having the character named for herself or for her late mother. The answer to that was simple − instead of a troubled father and daughter relationship, in the story Caroline and Dina Willner have a troubled mother and daughter relationship instead. In some ways, it worked out a lot better.

Mayhem in the Midlands was a great convention, but one of the real eye-openers for me was the setting in Omaha, Nebraska. I enjoyed visiting the city so much I decided that it would be fitting for an important part of FIFTH VICTIM to take place there.

Excerpt

He’s injured!’ I said, cutting across whatever Parker was saying at the other end of the phone. ‘He’s wearing a T-shirt and he’s just lifted his right arm, but stiff, awkward. I see a bandage.’

I remembered the close-up CCTV image of the guy throwing his arms up as glass rained around him. Maybe even throwing an arm into the path of my next round. The arm nearest the window. His right arm.

Parker went silent for a moment, all arguments about law enforcement intervention put on hold.

‘Can you engage with minimum risk?’ he asked then.

".Charlie Fox has to be one of the best characters in the crime thriller genre"

Graham Smith
CrimeSquad 5-star review

Risk. An all-purpose word with a raft of meanings. Risk of success. Risk of discovery. Risk of imprisonment. Risk of injury or death.

‘Yes.’

‘OK,’ he said, his voice shortened and tense. ‘If you can, lead him somewhere . . . quieter. What’s your current location?’

‘On Atlantic Avenue − don’t ask, it was the satnav’s choice. I was going to take the Williamsburg Bridge in but there must have been some sort of traffic snarl-up.’

‘Stay on Atlantic and head for Bushwick. Plenty of places there to have a nice long . . . discussion, without being disturbed.’

Places where the residents aren’t likely to call the cops, more like.

I said dryly, ‘The last time I went to Bushwick, I was arrested in a brothel.’

‘Yeah, try not to do that again, huh?’ He paused, as if hating to ask, but doing so anyway. ‘You need backup?’

‘No time. I’ll call you.’

‘You better, or I’ll be sending search parties.’ Another pause, and this time I heard the smile in his voice. ‘And when you talk to this guy, Charlie, be polite.’

No lasting damage.

‘I’ll do my best,’ I said, and hung up.

". . . exciting, eminently readable thriller. Recommended. "

Gloria Feit
reviewer par excellence

I got off Atlantic at the next lights, started threading deeper into run-down side streets lined with decrepit apartment buildings that looked barely able to support the weight of their own roof. The factories were huge old red-brick affairs, closed mostly to the point of dereliction. Someone had told me that Bushwick had the cheapest rents in the whole of New York City, but you got exactly what you paid for. I saw nothing to disprove it.

As I’d reminded Parker, the last time I’d been here − the last time I’d done more than drive through the place with the windows up and the door locks buttoned − it had ended badly. I’d been arrested in a police raid on a brothel, in the company of Sean, my father, and an underage hooker. Not one of our finer moments.

The guy in the Accord, meanwhile, stuck within a couple of cars’ lengths all the way. He was too anxious about getting cut off at lights and losing me to ask himself where the hell I might be leading him. He might as well have had a flashing neon sign on the roof.

Eventually, after several abrupt turns, I found myself back in the same kind of area as that seedy brothel. The scenery was overwhelmed by gang-tag graffiti and litter. Not so much quiet as cowed, with no inquisitive faces likely to appear at windows. Hardly any windows, for a start, and most of those had part-rotted plywood instead of glass.

It was not a side of the city mentioned on the tourist tours, but perfect for what I had in mind.

I slowed, ducking in my seat and making a big show of looking at the buildings on either side of me, as if searching for an address. My tail naturally hung back, so he was caught flat-footed when I hit the accelerator and the Navigator’s massive V8 attempted its best impression of a fighter jet leaving an aircraft-carrier catapult along the empty street.

The Accord driver floored the throttle in an attempt to close the gap. Immediately I was up to speed, I stamped on the brake pedal and stuck the gear lever into ‘Reverse’. The transmission thunked in protest, but Lincoln build ’em tough and I had actually managed to pick up some rearward velocity when I connected with the nose of the Accord.

"nail-biting thriller . . . enough adrenaline to keep the pages flipping "

Publishers Weekly

The laws of physics took over at this point. The Navigator’s large ground clearance and twenty-plus inches of departure angle meant its fat rear tyres were already attacking the Accord’s front bumper before the overhanging body fouled on the low-slung bonnet.

The tyres gripped and lifted, carried up and on by buckets of torque and a driver who was not about to let her foot off just yet. The Navigator mounted the front end of the Accord and sat on it, crushing the engine bay. I can only imagine what it must have looked like from inside the car.

I rammed the gear lever back into ‘Drive’ and, with less difficulty than I’d imagined, bounced back down onto the road surface. I’d always been taught to ram a solid object with the back of a vehicle rather than the front, if that were possible. Fewer vital moving parts to damage, for a start. As it was, the Navigator still felt perfectly driveable. The airbags hadn’t even deployed. Glancing in the mirrors, I was pretty sure the Accord was a write-off.

Well, good!

By the time I was out from behind the Navigator’s wheel and level with the wreck, leading with my left shoulder, I had the SIG out in a double-handed grip and pointed firmly at the driver’s fear-frozen head. It took him about half a second to jerk both hands up in surrender, palms facing.

The speed with which he got his right hand in the air, in particular, gave me a moment’s horrible creeping doubt. Bullet wounds, in my experience, severely restricted all movement, regardless of the situation. In the back of my mind, I began to wonder if I might have to go for a variation on the ‘I’m just a girlie and my foot slipped off the brake’ excuse.

Ah, well, too late to worry about that now . . .