"A wild roller- coaster ride with a serial sniper at the helm"
Reviewed by Katherine Petersen
Posted October 26, 2010
"If there was a God, he would have stopped me." This is
the note left in a shoebox by serial killer Galileo after
killing more than 10 police, a little dog, and a man who
noticed the body of a dead bum (set as a trap to lure his
victims to him). Tom Piper leads the FBI Task Force trying
to track down Galileo. Piper seeks the help of his
former protégé, Esme Stuart, who left the Bureau seven
years ago to live with her husband and child on Long
Island. Esme travels to Amarillo, Texas, the scene of
Galileo's second slaughter. This time he started a fire in
an aquarium and killed all the firemen who responded, all
but one. He took care of the final one in his hospital bed.
The Task Force has to determine the reason behind the
attacks and then figure out where Galileo will strike
next. Esme, who has a love and expertise of puzzles, has
some ideas after reading through the file. But when she
gets hurt, the FBI uses Tom Piper as a scapegoat and all
hell is still breaking loose.
Joshua Corin has written a wonderfully fast-paced and
action-packed drama that will keep one reading late into
the night. Readers will have to overlook some blatant
sexism on the part of Esme's husband, Rafe, who makes Esme
feel guilty for wanting to help catch a killer. Aside from
that, it's a very enjoyable read. If you
get squeamish about a high body count, then let this one
pass; but if that doesn't bother you, it's a wild roller-
coaster ride with a serial sniper at the helm.
Corin gives vivid descriptions, bringing scenes to life,
including the lurid ones. He takes an interesting look at
politics and religion as well. I hope to get to know Esme
Stuart more as Corin progresses in this series. The second
book, Before Cain Strikes, is due out in 2011.
IF THERE WERE A GOD, HE WOULD HAVE STOPPED
That is the message discovered atop an
elementary school in downtown Atlanta. Across the street are
the bodies of fourteen innocent men and women, each quickly
and cleanly murdered. The sniper Galileo is on the loose. He
can end a human life from hundreds of yards away. And he has
Where others see puzzles, Esme Stuart sees
patterns, and these outside-the-box inductive skills made
her one of the FBI's top field operatives--when she worked
for the Bureau. But she turned her back on that dark abyss
eight years ago to start a family and live a normal life.
She now has a husband and a daughter and a Long Island house
to call her own.
But as Galileo's murders escalate, her
beleaguered old boss needs the help of his former protegee.
But is Esme willing to jeopardize her new perfect
life--which she has certainly earned... How will she explain
it to her husband? Her daughter?
And what will happen
when Galileo aims his scope at them?
The bum wore pink. A prom dress, really. Torso to
kneecaps swathed in bubble gum taffeta. His spidery limbs,
black with grime and hair, jutted out in wrong angles. The
bum was face-down in the basin of a puddle in the middle of
MLK Drive, and lay undiscovered until 3:16a.m.
Andre Banks (age 28) and his pug Moira (age 3) were out for
a stroll. Andre was walking off his insomnia. His parents
were coming to visit and that never ever boded well. Andre
and Moira normally kept only to Lincoln Street, the dimly-
lit cul-de-sac in which they lived, but the young man had a
lot more anxiety than usual to walk off. Moira made sure
to baptize every hydrant on their path, and was christening
her eleventh when Andre spotted the bum in the road.
Even in Atlanta, January meant freezing temperatures. The
city’s homeless did not nap out in the middle of MLK Drive
in January, certainly not in brand-new prom dresses. The
bum was almost perfectly centered inside the milky oval of
a nearby streetlight’s humming glow. Andre stared through
the fog of his breath at the man in the road and then
Moira, finished with her ritual, saw him too, and barked.
Prodded by his loud little dog, Andre left the sidewalk and
approached the face-down man. He didn’t bother checking
for traffic. 1. It was 3:16 in the morning. 2. This
stretch of MLK Drive was cordoned at either end by wooden
barricades due to (unapparent) DOT construction.
Moira skittered a few feet ahead of him, tensing at her
leash, impatient to reach the mysterious pink shape. She
barked again, and hopped up, giddy. The shape didn’t
budge. As they entered the circle of electric-powered
light, Andre wondered what circumstances led the bum to end
up here, (and dressed like that!). Had the man once been
successful? Did he have a family? Had his family kicked
him out? Maybe the prom dress was his daughter’s and she
was dead and wearing it helped the man remember her. Maybe
the bum was a transvestite, and that’s why his family had
kicked him out. The sins of a stubborn family, mused
Andre, never forgetting that his own parents, bastions of
disappointment, would be landing at Hartsfield-Jackson in
10 hours and—
Moira pounced on top of the bum’s taffeta back and licked
at his neck.
"Hey!" Andre tugged on the leather leash. "Bad dog."
With a petulant whine, Moira fought back. She lapped again
at the bum’s neck, savoring the salt mine she’d
discovered. Andre yanked his pug off the man, and then
realized the bum in the road hadn’t reacted, hadn’t even
groaned, hadn’t even breathed.
"Fuck," Andre concluded, and at 3:18a.m. (according to his
cell phone) he dialed the police.
They didn’t arrive for twenty minutes. This cordoned-off
stretch of MLK Drive was not popular. The strip malls and
chain stores which populated MLK down by the Georgia Dome
tapered off west of Techwood, and Andre’s neighborhood was
far, far west of Techwood. The grass in the local park,
fifty feet from the bum’s corpse, was rusted, as if neglect
had soured it to old metal. One hundred feet away,
bordering the park, loomed a three-story mortar slab called
Hosea Williams Elementary School. Its windows were
shingled with iron bars. Andre taught physical education
at Hosea Williams. His parents didn’t approve of the job,
and they certainly didn’t approve of the area. No one
Since the police didn’t arrive for twenty minutes, Andre
finished walking his dog. He knew he’d have time, and
Moira was restless. He led her down the block, past the
Atlanta Food Shop (boarded shut) and the red brick Holy
Life Baptist Church (gated shut). But by then Andre heard
the siren. He reached the dead body around the same time
the squad car circumvented the construction barricade.
Two cops emerged, scented of French fries. They clicked
off the siren but left on their red-and-blues to sweep and
bounce in careful rhythm over the block. To Moira,
essentially color blind, the lights were meaningless, but
to Andre, the colored lights painted his neighborhood at
3:40a.m. into a discotheque. That just reminded him of his
age, and his misbegotten teenage years, and how much his
life had changed in so short a—
"You called it in?" asked Officer Appleby, arms crossed.
He was the black one. Officer Harper, the white one, knelt
beside the body. The cops who served this neighborhood
always showed up in this demographic: one black, one
white. In fact, some of Andre’s more clever students
referred to them not as pigs but zebras. Yo, zebras on
patrol today, watch out.
"I was taking my dog for a walk," said Andre. He exhaled
warmth onto his hands and rubbed them together. Even
though he wore a fleece coat over his sweats, winter was
still winter. "We just found him lying there."
Officer Appleby frowned, uncrossed his arms, and crossed
them again. His stomach was bothering him. "Did you know
Down by the corpse, Officer Harper did a rudimentary
investigation of the bum’s hairy, muddy limbs for
frostbite. In a few minutes they’d call it in and the case
would belong to the detectives and medical examiner but
until then, if he was careful, if he didn’t disturb the
body or the scene, he could do some actual police work.
Let Appleby chat up the witness, predictable waste of time
that would be. In the meantime, Harper would work the
case. Find a clue. Share it with the cavalry when they
arrived and when his name came up for promotion, they’d
remember him for this and he’d be free of this beat patrol
graveyard shift bullshit forever.
Moira nudged against his ass with her nose. Harper scowled
down at the pug. God, he hated dogs. They slobbered and
chewed up nearly anything of value. They constantly needed
attention. The county taxed you for their tags, the pet
store taxed you for their food, the vet taxed you for their
shots. Dogs. God.
Moira nudged again against his ass and Harper slapped her
away. He glanced over at his partner and the witness.
Neither of them had noticed his violent outburst. Good.
The last thing he needed was yet another pissed-off
civilian lodging a valueless complaint.
Andre felt Moira rub up against his sneakers. Out of habit
he reached down and scruffed her behind her ears. She
probably wanted to go home. It was almost 4a.m. She would
have no trouble sleeping.
"Now, Mr. Banks, are you usually out this late?" Appleby
coughed into his fist, shifted his weight from his right
foot to his left. "You and your dog?"
"Insomnia," replied Andre.
Appleby offered a sympathetic nod. The witness didn’t seem
too disturbed by the dead body, but this was Atlanta. This
was MLK Drive. Death had long ago put up residence here.
Appleby had worked this beat for ten years. If every
person in this neighborhood was gathered together, the
stories they could tell. After all, as an officer of the
law, he only dealt with what was reported. What went
unreported – those were the crimes that gave him
"Well, Mr. Banks, we’ll need to get an official statement,
but it probably doesn’t have to be—"
The glass bulbs atop the police cruiser exploded in a
crescendo of noise. All four of them – Andre, Moira,
Appleby, and Harper – glanced at the ground, now covered in
shards, then at the roof of the car, then at each other.
Moira cocked her head in thought.
"Someone must’ve thrown a baseball or something," said
Harper had his gun out. "Show yourselves, you little
With the discotheque lights gone, the only illumination
left was the milky oval of the streetlight, and that
enabled them to see each other, but not whoever had
shattered the glass. Harper cocked his gun, and Appleby
reached for his. They relied on their ears to detect the
vandal, but could only hear their own heartbeats in the
cold night air.
Then Harper didn’t even hear that, because a bullet passed
through his brainpan and he was dead. He collapsed like a
string-less marionette, not three feet from the body of the
Appleby opened his mouth to speak, scream, something, but a
second bullet took care of that, and he joined his partner
on the grey pavement. The blood from their wounds dripped
out of their bodies and co-mingled, like holding hands.
A minute passed.
Andre didn’t move.
Moira trotted over to Appleby’s body and poked at his cheek
with one of her front paws. She looked back at her master
Slowly, Andre took a step toward the squad car. He would
be safe inside the squad car. They were bulletproof,
"Moira," he whispered. "Come here, girl."
She followed him as he inched away from the carnage. The
car was twenty feet away. Presumably, the doors were
unlocked. He would get inside and radio for help and he’d
be safe. He and Moira would be OK.
Fifteen feet away, they reached the pool of glass. Moira
skirted around it. She and Andre were almost out of the
arc of the streetlight. Ten feet away, and Andre decided
that going slow made no sense - he wasn’t walking a
tightrope. He took a deep breath (as he taught his students
to do at Hosea Williams) and prepared to sprint.
The third bullet dropped him before he had a chance.
And the fourth bullet took care of the dog.
Clouds shifted. The streetlight hummed. At 4:25a.m.,
the squad car’s radio squawked to life. Dispatch wanted a
10-4 on their whereabouts, over. By 4:40a.m., Dispatch
got antsy and sent out Pennington and O’Daye to
investigate. Pennington and O’Daye arrived at five to
six. Dawn was just a commercial break away.
Pennington got out first, while O’Daye shifted the car into
park. They both saw the car, then the bodies. O’Daye
called it in, tried to remain calm, but her voice trembled
like a plucked string:
"Dispatch, this is Baker-82. We’re at the scene. We have
four bodies, repeat four bodies. Officers Harper and
Appleby are down. Request immediate back-up. Over."
Gabe Pennington scanned the area with his hazel eyes. His
prescription lenses fogged up from the cold, and with
frustration and panic he lifted a gloved hand and wiped
them clean. No doubt about it – that was Roy Appleby.
Ever since his divorce, Pennington had played poker at the
bastard’s house every Saturday night. Appleby was a lousy
poker player but he loved the game. Pennington hated the
game, but craved the companionship. He was living out of a
motel room off I75. It was Appleby who’d reached out to
him. Now the man was leaking blood on MLK Drive. Damn
"Copy Baker-82," Dispatch responded with the same authority
as always, "Back-up is on the way. Dispatch out."
Officer O’Daye stared through the windshield. "Maybe
they’re still alive."
Pennington glanced down at her, then back at the bodies in
the milky oval. Indeed, his first instinct had been to
rush out to them and check for pulses. Perform CPR. But
they didn’t know the scope of the scenario, and until you
knew the scope of the scenario, you played it safe. Safe
may not have worked for his marriage, but it had kept him
clean of serious injury for fourteen years on the force.
O’Daye was young. She would learn.
As he rejoined her in the car, Melissa O’Daye checked the
time on her wristwatch. Six a.m. Soon the block would be
awake. Parents would be walking their kids, all bundled up
in their woolies, across the street to Hosea Williams. The
corner boys would be out soon too, and the early-bird
alcoholics. None of them had to see this. No one should
have to see this. She shouldn’t have had to see this. She
should’ve been in bed. She didn’t need the overtime. What
was she trying to—
The dog moaned.
O’Daye and Pennington popped to attention.
The little dog was half in the light and half out. They’d
just assumed she wasn’t breathing, just like the others,
but she moaned again, breathy, tenuous.
"Christ Jesus," O’Daye muttered.
She opened her door.
"Wait." Pennington held up a hand. "There’s nothing you
"Nothing I can...? That dog’s alive!"
"Are you a vet? No. So sit tight. Back-up will be here
"We can’t just—"
"It’s not cowardice," he explained. "It’s procedure."
She closed her door.
The dog, Moira, age 3, wept. She was dying and she knew it
and just wanted to pull herself to a dark and quiet place,
away from her master. But she couldn’t move. All she
could do was fill the January air with her requiem sobs.
When back-up arrived, they showed in droves. Three squad
cars and two additional unmarked vehicles pulled up to the
crime scene. Officers were down – their brothers and
sisters in blue were damn sure going to avenge their
deaths. Their sirens crashed through the neighborhood like
an aural hurricane. Parents and children sat up in their
beds and pondered the end of the world. Some peered out
their windows. Some bolted shut their doors. Even the sun
peeked out over the skyscrapers to catch a glimpse of the
Lead officer on scene was Deputy Chief Perry Roman. He was
division commander over Zone 4. Appleby and Harper were
his men. He climbed out of his beige station wagon, left
his microsuede unbuttoned (and his paint-spattered Police
Academy sweatshirt exposed), and quickly assigned roles:
"O’Daye & Pennington: tape off the area and assist in crowd
control. Halloway & Cruise, Jaymon & DeWright: canvass the
area. Williams, Kayless, Ogleby : take statements, someone
must’ve seen something. Detectives, homicides don’t get
plainer than this. You know what to do."
Officer O’Daye wanted to check on the dog. She couldn’t
hear her keening anymore – there was too much chatter now
in the air – but she needed to know if the dog was still
alive. It’s not that she had dogs of her own...she didn’t
have any pets at all. She lived alone in her apartment.
Is that why she worked the overtime? And now she was
pining away for an animal (and not for any of the four
human beings!). Foolish. She shuffled her neuroses to the
niches of her mind, just as her therapist had taught her to
do. When Pennington (who was a coward – everyone knew it)
grabbed a thick roll of yellow tape from the trunk of their
cruiser, she didn’t go for the dog. She went for the tape,
and helped her cowardly older partner zip up the
The deputy chief remained on the sidewalk, hands on his
hips, and surveyed. Eleven cops working the scene - it
would be so easy to contaminate evidence. The last thing
any of them needed at this hour, for these fallen soldiers,
was an example of negligence (or worse, incompetence) the
shooter’s defense attorney could attack in court. And
Perry Roman had no doubt they would catch the shooter. The
morning shift came on in two hours. By 9 a.m. every street
corner in southwest Atlanta would have a shield working the
case. Two of their own were dead. Roman made a note to
himself to warn his men, when they found the shooter, not
to mortally wound the motherfucker. This was going to be a
clean, by-the-book operation. The dead deserved nothing
less (even if Harper was a lazy prick).
Perry fixed his gaze on the two homicide detectives. Not
his most perceptive team, but they’d suffice, at least for
two hours. Some administrators, he knew, would see this
tragedy as a chance to piggybank to a promotion. Perry
Roman just wanted to get the job done. Perry Roman was a
church-going man, went every Sunday with his wife and three
kids. If the Good Lord saw fit to reward him with a
promotion, so be it. In the meantime, he’d just be the
best man he could be.
He felt the rising sun tickle the back of his head. The
milky oval on the pavement was fading away like a dream.
Perry stared past the violence to the unkempt park on the
north side of the street, and to the elementary school on
the other side of the park.
The sniper, on the roof of the elementary school, stared
past the violence to Perry Roman. The dawn provided
adequate illumination for all sorts of misbehavior. He
tracked his rifle to the two gesticulating detectives; to
the old cop with the yellow tape and his young female
sidekick, the one who kept looking at the dog. He adjusted
his scope for the day’s new brightness and fingered his
gentle trigger. Yep. All sorts of misbehavior.
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