Cover image for Beyond belief
Beyond belief
Johansen, Roy.
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Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
327 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Library
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The New York Times Book Review hailed Roy Johansen's debut, The Answer Man, as "offbeat [and] fascinating." Now the Edgar Award winner and Shamus Award finalist once again "keeps the pages turning" (Los Angeles Times) in a new thriller that pits a professional skeptic against something inexplicable -- and undeniably lethal. Joe Bailey is the Spirit Basher. Formerly a professional magician, he's become an ace police detective in Atlanta, debunking phony psychics and spiritualists who prey on the gullible. And he's just caught his first sensational murder case. The victim is someone Joe knew. Dr. Robert Nelson was a professor at Landwyn University, head of the parapsychology program. He was killed in his own home, a sculpture of massive chrome spikes driven through his body and into a wall. A sculpture that no one could possibly have lifted. But Nelson's girlfriend claims to know the murderer: an eight-year-old boy. Jesse Randall is not just any child. Some people say he can move objects using nothing more than his will. Nelson had been studying the boy, and Jesse's anger at the professor was erupting in "shadow storms" -- violent telekinetic activity -- while Jesse slept. Nelson's girlfriend swears that one of these episodes was responsible for Nelson's brutal death. Joe is far from convinced. He's certain that Jesse's power is a hoax and Nelson's killer is a master of deception. Driven to seek out the truth that surely lies behind the psychic fakery, Joe must rely on his wits to separate what's real from what's illusion -- even if it means drawing Jesse's anger on himself. Soon mysterious incidents thrust him and his own child into grave peril. Are they examples of Jesse's shadow storms? Or deadly warnings from someone who cannot allow the Spirit Basher to discover the truth? Joe cannot abandon his search for answers. And he'd better find them fast before whoever -- or whatever -- impaled Robert Nelson like an insect does the same to him and his daughter.

Author Notes

Roy Johansen is the son of Iris Johansen, who he occasionally writes books with. His first screenplay, Murder 101, was produced for cable TV and won an Edgar Award and a Focus Award. He has written projects for Disney, MGM, United Artists, Universal, and Warner Bros. His books include Deadly Visions, Beyond Belief, and The Answer Man. Roy co-wrote 2014 New York Time Best Seller, Sight Unseen, with his mother Iris Johansen.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A professor of parapsychology is found murdered, the body displayed halfway up the wall in his study, impaled by a sculpture. Detective Joe Bailey, a former magician and now a member of the Atlanta Police Department's bunco squad, who scouts out scams by phony psychics, is called in to ferret out the real m.o. behind what seems to be an otherworldly murder. The chief suspect, according to the dead prof's girlfriend, is an eight-year-old boy with telekinetic powers. The ever-skeptical Bailey (magic taught him there's an explanation for everything) finds his worldview shaken and his life endangered as unaccountable things start happening around him. The moves of a serial killer in Atlanta who has appointed himself the eight-year-old boy's guardian heighten the suspense. Johansen, who won an Edgar for The Answer Man (1999), introduces another tough-guy hero and a cast of off-kilter characters in an absolute stunner of a thriller. --Connie Fletcher

Publisher's Weekly Review

Incredible events that beg a supernatural explanation challenge the deeply ingrained skepticism of Atlanta police detective Joe Bailey in this crafty paranormal crime thriller. A former stage magician who debunks swindling spirit mediums, psychic surgeons and similar charlatans, Bailey nicknamed the "Spirit Basher" has his work cut out for him in trying to solve the grisly death of a parapsychology professor impaled midway up the wall of his apartment by a sculpture too heavy for any person to lift. He refuses to believe that moody eight-year-old Jesse Randall, a supposed psychic prodigy, may have unintentionally murdered the man by unleashing an unconscious "shadow storm" during sleep. But while Joe is determined to prove the boy a con artist, others are not so dismissive, among them a psychopathic killer convinced that Jesse is the "Child of Light" prophesied by his millennialist cult. Though Johansen (The Answer Man) offers half-hearted psychological rationales for some characters' motives, he mostly keeps the story to its surface, which he polishes brilliantly to allow for the collision of nonstop, tricky plot complications, including a mysterious money laundering scheme by the dead prof, Joe's romance with a medium he's investigating and Jesse's helicopter abduction from a church service by armed assailants. Many, but not all, of the supernatural scams are explained by the novel's end, and readers will have fun trying to keep up with the tale's rapid pace and Johansen's nimble sleight-of-hand. (Apr. 10) FYI: Johansen won an Edgar for his cable-TV screenplay, Murder 101. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Maybe tonight was the night he'd learn to believe in magic. Not damned likely, Joe Bailey thought. Over the years, he'd received too many calls that promised something extraordinary but never actually delivered. Why would tonight be any different? He unbuttoned his overcoat as he climbed the polished granite front stairs of a mansion on Habersham Drive. He checked his watch: 1:40. The call had come only fifteen minutes earlier from Lieutenant Vince Powell, who headed the evening watch at the station. There had been a homicide. "I'm in bunco," Joe told him. "You're sure I'm the guy you want?" "I know who you are," Powell said. "You bust up all the phony seances, psychics, and witch-doctor scams." "Among other things, yeah." "Well, we got something right up your alley. It's scaring the shit out of the officers on the scene. You wanna take a look?" No, he didn't want to take a look, but he was here anyway. He strode through the open door. It was a cold February night in Atlanta. Mid-thirties, he guessed. He could still see his breath in the air as he walked through the foyer and looked for the uniformed officer who usually secured a crime scene. Probably upstairs getting the shit scared out of him. There were voices echoing down the stairway. Not the matter-of-fact grunts he'd heard at the few murder scenes he'd visited; the words were the same but uttered faster and louder. A totally different energy. But whatever it was waiting for him up there, he was sure it wasn't magic. He always tried to allow for any possibility, but in his six years on the bunco squad, he had yet to see the genuine article. He'd been a professional magician in his twenties and early thirties, so the smoke-and-mirrors stuff had quickly become his specialty. It was still only a small part of his job, but when the squad needed someone to pull apart spirit scams or sleight-of-hand cons, he was the man. He'd never been asked to investigate a murder. "Who the hell told you that you could be a real cop?" a voice drawled from the top of the stairs. Joe looked up to see Carla Fisk, a detective he had once worked with on a beauty-juice investigation. The perp had been selling bottles of tonic that supposedly made its female users flower into beautiful specimens of womanhood. Carla, who cheerfully admitted that her face looked like the "before" picture of almost every beauty ad ever printed, had worn a wire and purchased a few of the bottles. She was no glamour girl, but she was one of the most beautiful people Joe had ever known. He smiled. "It's past your bedtime, Carla. You're not working nights, are you?" "Nah, I was down the street at Manuel's Tavern. Everyone wanted a look at this one." "Why?" "You'll see. How's that little girl of yours?" "Furious. She wasn't happy about being woken up and shuttled to a neighbor's place so I could go check out a Buckhead murder scene." "She'll understand." "Maybe if I come back with Yo-Yo Ma tickets." "You gotta talk to your kid about the music she listens to. People are gonna think she has a brain." Carla grinned, flashing yellow teeth. Then she cocked her head down the hall. "You'd better get down there. They're waiting for you." He walked down the long hallway, feeling a sudden chill. Was it getting colder? No, it was probably just his imagination, fed by the nervous voices at the end of the hall. What was in that room? He stepped into the doorway and froze. He thought he was prepared for anything, but he was wrong. Suspended high on the far wall, a man was impaled by a large spiked sculpture. The sight was so odd, so out of the realm of belief, that Joe looked away, then back, as if another glance would help it make sense. It didn't. He was staring into a large room with tall ceilings, perhaps fifteen feet high. There were grand bookshelves, two towering windows, a seating area, and a grand piano. The corpse was suspended at least eight feet above the floor. The chrome sculpture, a skyline of gleaming spikes, was driven downward into the victim's chest, sticking him to the wall like pushpins into a paper doll. A pool of blood had collected on the floor below, along with one of the man's shoes. "Unbelievable," Joe murmured. "Is that your professional opinion?" He turned to see a tall, tanned, fiftyish detective standing next to him. The man didn't offer to shake hands. "Are you Bailey?" "Yeah." "I'm Mark Howe, Homicide. Have you ever seen anything like this?" "No." "How did this happen?" "I have no earthly idea." Howe clicked his tongue. "That's not the answer I wanted to hear. You've never investigated a homicide, have you?" Joe shook his head. "No, I'm in bunco." "Right. The Spirit Basher." Joe sighed. "The Spirit Basher" was a nickname he'd picked up after several high-profile busts in which he had debunked phony spiritualists and psychics. The local papers championed the headline-ready nickname whenever he ventured into that territory. "Yeah," Joe said. "Some people call me that." Howe made a face as if he had just bitten into a lemon. "For the record, I didn't ask for you. It was my boss's idea to call you in." "I'm glad we got that straight." "No offense, but you spend most of your days breaking up insurance scams, gas station pump fixes, and auto repair con jobs, am I right?" "And you spend most of your days investigating drug deals gone bad and domestic disputes settled at the end of a firearm. I'd say we're both in foreign territory here." That shut him up. Joe glanced around the room. Two fingerprint specialists were dusting every flat surface, and a medical examiner was walking from side to side, staring up at the corpse. A photographer was snapping pictures of the scene. Joe studied the corpse's face. It wasn't possible. "Christ. I know this man," Joe finally said. "What?" As if this weren't bizarre enough. "I know him. This is Dr. Robert Nelson." "That's right," Howe said, surprised. "He was a professor at Landwyn University. He cochaired the parapsychology program." "Friend of yours?" "He despised me. I do some part-time work for the university. The head of the humanities department doesn't believe in that stuff, and he brings me in to debunk the psychics and spiritualists they study." Joe couldn't take his gaze from Nelson. The professor had been in his early fifties, and his strong chin and cheekbones were tensed in a horrible grimace. It almost appeared as though Nelson were still feeling the agony of that sculpture rammed through his chest. Blood had run down his blue oxford-cloth shirt to his khaki slacks and dripped from the cuffs. Another bloodstain ran down the wall behind him, obviously from the exit wound. "Who found him?" "Girlfriend. Eve Chandler. She's in the next room. She let herself in around eleven and found him. She said there have been some disturbances here the past few nights." "What do you mean?" "Objects moving around, furniture shifting, and that piano tipping over. All by themselves." "Did she see these things happening?" "That's what she says. She's sure they were caused by the same person who made the statue fly into her boyfriend's chest." "And who would that be?" "An eight-year-old boy." Excerpted from Beyond Belief by Roy Johansen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.