A homicide detective in the dark. A serial killer on the loose. Both have their obsessions in a nerve-twisting novel of suspense by New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton.
Austin homicide detective Jordan Poe is hunting a serial killer she fears is the same man who assaulted her sister, Avery, two years ago. The details line up: the victims are the same age, same type, dead by the same grim MO. Luckily Avery survived. But the terrible memories linger, making Jordan more determined than ever to stop this monster in his tracks.
Texas Ranger Carter Spencer isn’t one to poach on a detective’s territory. Yet no matter how resentful a capable lone wolf like Jordan is, when she is attacked at a third crime scene and suffers a trauma that leaves her with limited vision, it’s up to Carter to help Jordan navigate a world she no longer recognizes. He needs her instinct, her experience, and her fearless resolve to crack this case. A case that’s about to get even darker.
A stranger is watching. He’s closing in on his ultimate prey. And no one but the killer can see what’s coming.
Don't Look Now Excerpt
Tuesday, March 30
The call from dispatch was a jolt to homicide detective Jordan Poe’s system. After a fifteen-hour shift, she had arrived home, eaten a quick dinner, and settled on the couch to watch a movie. She had immediately fallen asleep.
Now, as she bolted up to the shrill ring, she shook off the sleep and reached for her phone. “Detective Poe.”
“Detective, a woman’s body has been found in Southeast Austin.” Dispatch rattled off familiar cross streets and an address less than ten blocks from her house.
“Tell me.” Jordan cleared her throat as she moved toward the kitchen through her darkened house, illuminated by only the television screen’s light.
She listened patiently as the dispatcher told her about the discovery of a woman’s body. No details about manner of death, but the body was in an advanced state of decomposition. Translation: the smell would saturate anything porous that came within fifteen feet. Full PPE was suggested.
She made a strong pot of coffee, and as it brewed, she brushed her hair, refashioned it into a bun, and splashed water on her face. Ten minutes later, coffee in hand, she pushed out of her front door, wearing yesterday’s clothes. She slid behind the wheel of her SUV, parked in a small gravel driveway by her bungalow. She had inherited the one-story, fifteen-hundred-square-foot house from her mother twelve years ago, and she had spent a lot of that time renovating it. Many of the homes on her block still had their original owners and had not been updated. But the rush of newcomers to Texas had discovered the East Austin neighborhood with wooded lots, and it was a matter of time before the elderly residents sold.
When she arrived on the scene ten minutes later, she had drained her coffee and convinced herself she was not exhausted.
The one-level ranch was painted a mint green. It was surrounded by a chain-link fence encircling a yard filled with tall weeds. Across the street was a heavily wooded empty lot that had turned into a dumping ground filled with discarded tires, an old stove, and piles of brush.
Four cop cars were parked along the house’s curb, their blue lights flashing in the darkness. A forensic van was parked in the short driveway, and two techs were setting up a tent and table. Normally the techs used tents to shield them from the hot Texas sun, and seeing as the sun had nine more hours before showtime, the setup told her they expected to be here well into tomorrow.
Before her mom, little sister, and she had moved to Austin, they had lived in Boston. She remembered the snow had come up to her waist on her sixteenth birthday, and the January air was so cold the windchill drove the temperatures below freezing. That was the day her mother had mumbled something about “being done with this shit,” and the three of them had packed the family’s blue Subaru and driven to Austin.
The day’s growing heat brought her back to the moment. She noticed there were still no reporters on the scene yet, and she was relieved. Crime in this area was standard, but sooner or later the press would catch on and this would all get more chaotic.
She rose up out of her vehicle, grateful to stretch her long, stiff legs. She was craving a good workout, but that was going to have to wait.
Jordan’s low-heeled boots, dusted with dirt from yesterday’s crime scene, crunched against the freshly graveled street as she moved toward the back of her SUV and opened the hatch.
Shrugging off her jean jacket, she tugged on the lightweight PPE suit over a black T-shirt and worn jeans banded by a leather belt. Next it was shoe coverings and latex gloves.
She looked up at the ramshackle ranch. A sign in the front window indicated it was marked for remodeling by a developer who had done dozens of projects in the area over the last year. No doubt, the landowner hoped to sell the property to a newly relocated young professional willing to pay a premium.
A couple of forensic technicians wrestled a large light up the two concrete front stairs and into the house. After a moment, they reappeared, faces grim as one plugged a long extension cord into a generator. A press of a button and the generator jolted to life, and the interior of the house lit up.
A deputy moved toward her. He was tall, lean, a bit gangly, but he had the look of a guy who would fill out.
She guessed he was in his mid-twenties.
“Detective Poe?” he asked.
“That’s right. And you are?” Hints of her Boston accent drew out the last word.
“Officer Wilcox.” They shook hands. “I was first on the scene.” His face was stoic, but his fingers flexed involuntarily. Easy to control reactions on the face, but there was always another body part that gave the nerves away.
First seconds on a scene were precarious and tense. And if you should be so unlucky as to come across a suicide, murder, or infant death, the emotional gut punch was inevitable. “When did you arrive?”
“Two hours ago. The renovation crew chief called it in. He’s still in his truck. Not happy about having to wait for a detective.”
“We all could think of better things to do, including the victim.”
A slight smile tweaked his lips. “That’s for sure. The crew chief figured the dead person was a squatter or drug addict who had died. It’s not rare in this area.”
“I was told the victim is female.”
“Any idea of the cause of death?”
“Offhand, I’d say suffocation. But who knows? It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen.” He shifted his feet and flexed his fingers.
“How long have you been on the job?” she asked.
This scene likely was now in the officer’s Book of Firsts. All cops had a book like that, and no matter how full it got, there was always room for a new horror. “Okay. Let me have a look.”
“Want me to come with you?” Officer Wilcox asked.
“Stay in the yard. Fewer people in the house, the better.”
His relief was palpable. “Understood.”
She slid her mask over her face and crossed the gravel driveway, and as she climbed the two front porch steps, the scent of decomposition hit her hard. She stopped, raised her hand to her nose.
“Jesus,” she muttered. Her first year on the job, she had swabbed Vicks under her nose but learned menthol did not conceal rot. These days, she sucked it up, knowing the brain would cancel out the smell after a few minutes.
She turned toward Andy Lucas, the senior forensic technician in the department. He was short, had a round face and belly, and his ink-black hair showed no signs of graying despite his recent fiftieth birthday.
“When you get inside, follow the yellow cones to the body. There’s a lot of dust in that room, so I have a prayer of getting a shoe impression.”
“Hey, and thanks for the case of beer,” Lucas said.
“A man only turns fifty once.”
“Thank God,” he joked. “Took me days to get over the surprise party.”
She had helped host the event, which was just as much a department morale booster as it was a celebration of Lucas’s half-century milestone. Because she did not drink, she had left early, but the stories, some of which were pretty damn funny, still circulated two weeks later.
She stepped over the extension cord, walked heel to toe beside the yellow cones, which led her into the small main room. Artificial light shone on faded rose wallpaper peeling off old shiplap, four barred broken windows, and clumps of hay nestled in shadowed corners.
She moved toward the illuminated area and the victim. Female, with a slight frame, and naked, she was wrapped in a thick layer of plastic. Her hands were bound, and there appeared to be a bag over her head and a gag in her mouth.
The manner of death stirred memories Jordan had worked hard to forget. Closing her eyes, she drew air into her lungs, her desire to avoid the stench overruled by the need to breathe fully. Tight bands of anxiety squeezed her chest. She closed her eyes, pushing away the past and allowing her mind to settle. This was now. Not two years ago. And she had nothing to worry about.
Slowly, her thoughts collected, and she opened her eyes. Chalk up another experience for her Book of Firsts.
As she did at all fatality scenes, she mentally reclassified the dead person from Human to Evidence. This woman could no longer speak, but her body still might have secrets to share.
The body was badly decayed. Gases had already built up in the belly and burst through the skin, leaving a real oozing mess encased in the plastic. The covering around the body had slowed the bugs attracted to decomposing flesh, but a few had found a small opening and begun nature’s work. Another two weeks and there would not have been much to find.
The plastic bag over the victim’s head was secured in place with a thin drawstring tied in a double-knotted bow.
Jordan had responded to a couple of accidental autoerotic asphyxiation deaths. The people who played this dangerous game cut off oxygen to the brain, sexually stimulated their bodies, and then, seconds before orgasm, released the bag or neck restraints. The rush of oxygen was supposed to heighten the pleasure, but the trick was to remove the bag or rope in time. In both prior, unrelated cases, the victims had been men. One had worn a belt around his neck, whereas the other had chosen a thin cord. Each had passed out before the big O and suffocated to death.
Even if this woman had started this dangerous trek willingly, it was clear she had not been alone at the time of her death. Had the dead woman’s sex partner panicked and wrapped and dumped the body?
At this stage it was impossible to tell the victim’s ethnicity. Her skin appeared to be brown, but Jordan knew that could be from decomposition. Her hair had been icy blond, but the color looked as if it could be found on any drugstore shelf.
Age was another detail that was hard to call. But if Jordan had to guess, she would have said the victim was young.
Footsteps behind her had her turning to see Andy and the other tech, Marsha Brown, enter the room. In full PPE, they looked more alien than human.
“We’d like to get started on the footprints,” Andy said. “They’ll be the first ruined.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Jordan said.
“Are you sticking around?” Andy asked.
“Just standing back and observing.”
As Jordan backtracked her steps to the front door, she imagined other motives behind this killing. With the border 220 miles away, human trafficking was common here. Though coyotes raped and sometimes killed their victims, they generally discarded the bodies on a barren patch of earth in the open sun. Some might take the time to cover the remains with a little dirt or brush, but she had never seen any wrappings this elaborate. Drug dealers and pimps were not strangers to violence, but they rarely went to such lengths with their dead, unless they were sending a message.
The house was marked for renovation, so whoever had left Jane Doe here had known she would be found eventually. Maybe he wanted her found. Maybe it was a sign of misguided respect or contrition for what he had done. Maybe it was a message to someone. Or maybe he simply wanted his work displayed.
But until she could find out more about the victim’s identity, any stab at motive would be conjecture.
Her attention was drawn back to the bound hands tied with precise, tight knots. Like the drawstring, they were double knotted.
Jordan guessed the killer had played with the tension on the bag before he killed her. How many times had he brought her up to the point of death and then carefully loosened the drawstring so she could suck in enough oxygen to stay alive? Had she been a willing participant or a victim? Jordan had seen a lot of crazy shit over the years, but her money was on murder.
Had she been the killer’s first victim? Had he been playing out this erotic scenario for months—if not years? The thick plastic wrap and packing tape, even finding this location, required planning. Forethought. Jordan remembered the woman she had found bound, gagged, and struggling to breathe two years ago, when she’d still been a patrol officer. She’d saved that one, but she had been minutes away from losing her.
“Christ,” she muttered. “What do the footprints look like, Andy?” she asked. “Any idea how many sets?”
“From what I can see, there’re the deputy’s prints as well as another set.”
“Only one other?”
“Yep. The contractor smelled the decomposition and didn’t enter the house.”
“We can assume they are the killer’s prints, and he likely carried her in here?” Jordan asked.
“She’s barefoot and has small feet. I don’t see any prints like that.” Andy killed the big light, and they were plunged into darkness before he shined his flashlight over the dusty floor. Shadowed footprints appeared. “We lost a lot of the killer’s initial foot strikes near the body, but in the corners and around the perimeter we have traces of his footsteps. Lucky for us the place has been abandoned for a while, and the dust was thick.”
Picturing the scene, she imagined a killer carrying in his unconscious victim. That gave him time to get his plastic, tape, and whatever other toys he had brought to this party. By the time the victim had woken up, she would have been naked and immobilized with rope and perhaps under the weight of his body. How long had her struggles to live lasted? Minutes? Hours? Days? For the victim, time must have stretched for an eternity.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Jordan said. “The medical examiner can take the body.”
“Right. Should have a report in a few days, week at the most.”
Tightness fisted in Jordan’s chest as she stepped onto the porch. The eyes of the four other deputies settled on her. How many bets had been placed on the newest homicide detective’s reaction? She squared her shoulders and slowly walked down the steps and crossed to the forensic van.
She wanted to rip off the PPE and scrub the stench off her. Suddenly, the protective gear reminded her of the plastic encasing the dead woman. But again, she moved slowly, drawing her gaze up to the nearly full moon before she removed her mask. There were enough women in Texas law enforcement, so she was not an anomaly, but freaking out at a crime scene earned any officer a black mark, regardless of gender.
She dumped the gloves and booties, and then the suit, in the disposal bin. There was no breeze to cool her skin, but with the outer layer shed, she felt lighter.
As she crossed back to her vehicle, she saw Officer Wilcox eyeing her. It was a matter of time before he churned up the courage and asked whatever question was on his mind.
She kept moving, opened the back of her SUV, washed her hands with sanitizer, and from a cooler grabbed a bottle of water as Officer Wilcox approached. She handed the first bottle to him and took a second for herself.
She twisted the water bottle’s top open. “What’s on your mind, Officer?”
“I’ve seen shootings and car accidents. But nothing like that.” Absently, he scraped the water bottle label with his thumb. “This killer took pleasure in what he did.”
“You’re right. Some kill for sport, Officer.” As he drew in a breath and nodded slowly, she added, “It takes planning to find the woman, this location, and assemble the supplies.” She raised the bottle to her lips, savoring the cool liquid in her mouth. “Even if the killing was meant to be a lesson, this killer enjoyed his work.”
Don't Look Now Reviews
“With plenty of possible suspects, Burton’s (Never Look Back) latest will appeal to readers who want light romance and heavy suspense.” – Library Journal