"A brutally murdered family and secrets of the dead all combine to make an intriguing read."
Reviewed by Lynn Cunningham
Posted February 9, 2011
Mystery Police Procedural | Thriller Crime
Detective Wade Jackson had seen a lot of bad things in his
20 years as a cop but nothing compared to the scene
he walked in on that beautiful June morning in Eugene,
Oregon. An entire family had been slaughtered in their
kitchen. A father, mother, and son are all dead, although
the daughter has somehow survived this horrendous mass
killing. She's still alive, but barely.
As Detective Jackson digs deeper into this case, he finds
many secrets that somehow lead back to the Walker family.
Did any of these secrets cause them to be so brutally
murdered? Lori Walker, the survivor, is going to recover but
she can't remember anything about the night of the murders.
It seems that she has amnesia brought on by the trauma of
that night, but there's hope she'll regain her memory and
remember who killed her family and attacked her.
Detective Jackson is up to his eyebrows in this case while
still dealing with the recovery of an injury of his own.
Still on medication for it, he's adjusting to his new living
arrangement with his lovely girlfriend, Kera. At first, it
was great staying with her following his release from the
hospital. But Jackson also contends with a teenage daughter
and an alcoholic ex-wife. Then Kera moves her
dead son's girlfriend and new baby into the house. Suddenly,
things are much too crowded.
Jackson is also waiting to see which two cops will be laid
off from their jobs. He knows he's a good contender for that
with his new injury. But if he can just hold out another
month, he'll be eligible for retirement. There are so many
things going on in both his personal and professional life
right now. However, he's determined to find the perpetrator
of these horrible murders.
Told in both the present circumstances and in various
flashbacks through each of the Walker's eyes, PASSIONS OF
THE DEAD is a story that will rivet you to the book from the
first page. It's the first book by L.J. Sellars I've read
but it won't be the last. She has an amazing story telling
ability that keeps you reading long past your bedtime. It's
hard to say a lot about this book without giving too much
away. Just suffice it to say that it's a book you'll want to
start reading when you know you'll have the time to finish
it in one sitting.
A working-class family is brutally attacked in their home
and only one survives. Detective Jackson is assigned to
investigate and soon uncovers a blackmail scheme. But the
forensic evidence is confusing, and the girl who survives
has no memory of the horrific event.
When another home invasion occurs, Jackson is confident
theyíve nailed the perpetrators. Yet the case grows even
more entangled. When the survivor disappears, Jackson
fears for her lifeóbut can he find her in time to save her?
Monday, June 1, 8:15 a.m.
"Final decisions about layoffs will be announced Friday."
Sergeant Lammers panned the room, stopping to make eye
contact with Jackson. He and fifteen other detectives were
crammed into an overheated conference closet. They shifted
in their seats and tried not to glance at each other.
"Two detectives will be cut, one from vice and one from
violent crimes." Lammers' voice was deadpan, and for the
first time in his twenty-year career, Jackson worried he
might lose his job. He'd been written up and suspended
recently, and now he had a health issue the department
might consider a liability. What would he do if he lost
his job? He was still a month away from his twenty-year
The door flew open and a desk officer rushed in. "Excuse
me, Sergeant, but there's been a mass homicide. Four
people dead in a house at 1252 Randall Street. No reports
of the assailant. A relative found the bodies and called
A mass of men in dark jackets jumped to their feet, and
the air hummed with adrenaline. Lammers shouted over the
din. "I want Jackson, Schakowski, McCray, Quince, and
Evans at the scene. Everyone else is on standby for
assignments as needed." Lammers strode toward the desk
officer. "Get the mobile crime unit out there. I'll call
the DA and the ME."
Jackson hustled toward the door, thinking for the moment
he still had a job.
As he raced over Ferry Street Bridge with the rushing
water of the Willamette River below, Jackson worried about
what was happening to his hometown. For most of his life,
Eugene, Oregon had been a safe midsized college town—a
tree-loving, friendly place to grow up in, with the
mountains and the ocean only an hour's drive away. A
perfect place to raise his child. Now Eugene was a small
city with a growing crime rate, a meth scourge, high
unemployment, and a dying downtown—and no money to fix
anything. They'd never had a mass homicide though. He'd
worked several murder–suicides in which a man had shot
wife or girlfriend then himself, but never a crime scene
with four people killed. What if some of the victims were
The home was in the Coburg Road area, in one of the older
neighborhoods where the real estate had less square
footage but bigger yards. A modest house that needed paint
but otherwise looked cared for. The front lawn had been
recently mowed and someone had planted petunias along the
walkway—signs of an unusually warm month of May. A red F-
150 pickup and an old green Subaru sat side-by-side in the
driveway. The Subaru sported a bumper sticker bragging
about a Student of the Month and another that said I Love
Two patrol units sat out front in the curve of the long
cul-de-sac. One of the officers was on the sidewalk next
to a weeping woman with a cell phone to her ear. An older
couple huddled together at the edge of their adjoining
yard, and across the street a woman in sweatpants stood on
her front step, watching the activity. Another blue Impala
screeched to a stop behind him.
Jackson climbed out of his car, wishing he'd taken some
naproxen before leaving headquarters. The pain his ten-
inch abdominal scar still produced surprised him. His
kidneys, which had been compromised by the fibrosis, also
bothered him if he moved too fast. As he approached the
people on the sidewalk, the uniform officer said, "This is
Rita Altman. Her sister is one of the victims inside. She
came by this morning to pick her up and found them."
The woman, late thirties and heavyset with hair to her
waist, glanced at Jackson, then continued weeping into the
phone as she described her ordeal to a listener.
"Don't let her leave. I need to talk with her in a
minute," Jackson said and hurried past. He needed to get
inside the home and see the scene before it was swamped
with people doing their jobs. Behind him, the scream of an
ambulance raced up Harlow Road. Why the siren? Jackson
wondered. They wouldn't need its paramedic services, just
its cargo space to transport bodies.
Ed McCray, an older detective fond of brown corduroy,
joined him on the sidewalk. They looked at each other
without speaking, then started for the house. Jackson
visually searched the driveway as they walked past the
cars. He had a small hope of finding something the killer
might have dropped.
At the threshold, Jackson grabbed paper booties and latex
gloves out of his shoulder bag. McCray did the same.
Jackson suspected today he would need nearly everything
the bag held: flashlight, crime scene tape, an assortment
of pre-labeled paper bags and clear plastic bags, a box of
latex gloves, tweezers, and three cameras: film, digital,
He braced himself, nodded at McCray, then pushed though
the door. A sour metal smell soaked the air, overpowering
even the odor of meat scraps in the garbage. The front
door opened into a narrow hallway with vinyl flooring,
bordered by a step down into a carpeted, crowded living
room. With a sweeping glance, Jackson took it all in. Two
well-worn couches huddled around a big TV, a cluttered
desk in the corner with an older computer, a bookshelf
with more sports trophies than books, and a wall covered
with family photos.
Then he saw the wide archway into the kitchen. And beyond
it, the bodies.
A patrol officer squatted near the bloody mess. He jumped
at the sound of their footsteps. "This girl is alive," the
officer said in an excited rush. "After we cleared the
house, I went back to the kitchen to stand guard. I was
taking pictures and realized she was still breathing, so I
called for an ambulance."
A survivor! Thank God. Someone would be able to tell them
what the hell had happened here.
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