Cover image for A darker justice
A darker justice
Bissell, Sallie.
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New York : Bantam Books, [2002]

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319 pages ; 24 cm
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From the critically acclaimed author of In the Forest of Harm , one of suspense fiction's most exciting new voices, comes a stunning psychological thriller, a novel of conspiracy and revenge and of a ruthless killer whose shocking reign of terror can be stopped by only one woman.

A Darker Justice

For Assistant District Attorney Mary Crow, the misty mountains of Little Jump Off, North Carolina, still echo with secrets hidden in shallow graves. Now, at the request of the FBI, she is called back from Atlanta to her childhood home for a matter both professional ... and deeply personal.

Three federal judges are dead -- victims of an assassin so swift and skilled in the deadly arts that the only clue left behind is his trademark black feather. The killer's last victim was executed in a fashion so brazen, brutal, and horrifying, it even has hardened law enforcement officials rattled. They are desperate to protect the next suspected target -- Judge Irene Hannah -- but the stubborn jurist has adamantly refused federal protection.

It is up to Mary -- and tight-lipped, hard-boiled FBI agent Daniel Safer -- to protect her old friend and mentor as best they can. But the threat is much closer to home than Mary could ever imagine. When Judge Hannah disappears, Mary must follow her on a terrifying chase through the Carolina wilderness she knows and loves.

Deep within the beautiful and treacherous forest, a rogue killer and his army of "soldiers" are waiting. Soon Mary will have to confront a battle for survival in a place where there is no law and no mercy ... only a darker justice.

Author Notes

Sallie Bissell lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She is at work on her second suspense novel, which Bantam will publish in Spring 2002 and which will also feature prosecutor Mary Crow.

(Bowker Author Biography) Sallie Bissell is a native of Nashville, Tennessee. She currently divides her time between Nashville and Asheville, North Carolina.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Someone appears to be killing federal judges: 11 of them in the past 11 months, including one who was found beheaded in her office. Authorities fear the next victim will be Irene Hannah, who has refused federal protection. So the FBI asks Mary Crow, an assistant district attorney (and friend of the intended victim), to protect Judge Hannah. (Bissell acknowledges the implausibility of the FBI's enlisting the aid of a civilian by having a couple of her characters discuss the oddity of the situation.) The premise established, the story soon settles comfortably into realistic thriller mode. Can Mary Crow protect the judge? And, when the judge disappears, can Mary find her before it's too late? Despite the implausibility problem and a few easy-to-spot plot twists, Bissell's tale gathers a full head of narrative steam that keeps the pages turning. For thriller fans who value action over subtlety. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

For those who missed Bissell's well-received debut thriller, In the Forest of Harm, Bissell briefly sums it up at the beginning of her second offering. Atlanta prosecutor Mary Crow, while at the wedding of her dearest friend, Alexandria McCrimmon, reflects on the horrific events that unfolded 14 months before: "Alex had accompanied Mary on a camping trip in the Nantahalah Forest. The trip had turned bad when Alex had been abducted by a psychopathic trapper. Ultimately she'd been airlifted from the Appalachian forests, half-naked and nearly beaten to death." If that sounds like a bad trip, the goings-on this time are even worse. A powerful, secretive right-wing cabal called FaithAmerica which has its eyes on the U.S. presidency has been using students at Camp Unakawaya, a last-chance military school for teenage boys, to knock off federal judges who veer too far to the left in terms of legislating racial equality. One of the school's students the only one ever to win the coveted Black Feather for total dedication goes too far and messily beheads a female judge, calling undue attention to the previous deaths. The next victim appears to be Mary's friend and mentor, Judge Irene Hannah, but Hannah stubbornly refuses protection, so of course Mary is the only one who can save her. This takes her back into the woods and the arms of her former lover, the enigmatic Jonathan Walkingstick, and finally underground into some dank caverns where truth and justice lie. Bissell's narrative drive should carry readers right along, despite some farfetched aspects to the story. (Jan. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter 1 Deckard Hills Country Club Atlanta, Georgia December 23 "Come on, Mary. You haven't danced with me in years." With a broad grin, Wyatt Prentiss held out his hand. Behind him, the Darktown Strutters Jazz Machine launched into a sinuous version of "Brazil," a trio of trombones keeping the hot, pulsating rhythm at a slow boil. Mary Crow smiled. How could she refuse? The Strutters were Atlanta's most seductive band -- when they played, everyone not confined to a wheelchair jumped to their feet and moved to the beat. She grabbed Wyatt's hand and together they rode the music like a wave, gliding across the floor, holding each other tight. "Who'd have thought anybody would get married the day before Christmas Eve?" Wyatt turned Mary in a tight, sexy circle that brought the bride and groom into her view. Mary's oldest and dearest friend, Alexandria McCrimmon, now Mrs. Charles Ensley Carter, was dancing with her new husband. Though the Latin music throbbed around them, they danced their own private sway in the middle of the room, laughing and kissing at the same time. Mary closed her eyes and offered a silent prayer of thanks. Just fourteen months earlier Alex had accompanied Mary on a camping trip in the Nantahalah Forest. The trip had turned bad when Alex had been abducted by a psychopathic trapper. Ultimately she'd been airlifted from the Appalachian forests, half-naked and nearly beaten to death. That Alex was functional at all was astounding. That just an hour ago she had married a man who had never once faltered in his love for her, Mary considered a true gift from God. She smiled at Wyatt. He had no idea what an utter miracle this wedding was. "I think it's wonderful," she said, winking at Alex as she caught the bride's gaze. "Christmas will just start a day early this year." "These Texas McCrimmons really know how to celebrate." Wyatt held her closer and danced her past the long table that stretched along one entire side of the country club ballroom. At one end of the table stood a huge wedding cake topped with flowers; at the other end a fountain bubbled with champagne. In between lay all manner of Christmas delicacies, from Georgia sugared pecans to great platters of Texas barbecue, interspersed with conveniently placed bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey. A number of Stetson hats bobbed among the crowd of Atlantans, but nobody seemed to mind. The Texas McCrimmons and the Carters from Georgia got along well, finding -- as all Southerners can -- common ground in good food and strong whiskey. The song ended. Wyatt escorted her off the dance floor, next to the only other woman dressed in a long, elegant green gown identical to Mary's. Joan Marchetti grinned at Mary. "Some bash, huh?" "I'll say. I nearly cried." "Me, too," said Joan. "Particularly when that bagpiper cranked up and led them away from the altar. Jeez! They call that music?" "I think it's some kind of tradition with them," Mary explained. "Means good luck or lots of children or something." Joan rolled her eyes. Mary studied her in the diffused light. Joan, too, had been a victim of that camping trip from hell. She'd been raped and beaten -- her nose broken so severely that even the simple act of breathing had been nearly impossible. Today the only evidence of her injuries was a tiny red scar curled alongside one nostril. Her Uncle Nick had gotten her the best plastic surgeon in Manhattan. The results were amazing. Her skin had regained its creamy luminosity; her dark Italian eyes again flashed with life. "Alex makes a beautiful bride, doesn't she?" Mary nodded, recalling the little stone church bedecked with emerald and scarlet-berried holly and white orchids and Joan's voice soaring high into the air, the notes floating so perfect and beautiful that everyone instinctively held their breath. "She looked gorgeous. And you sang like an angel." "Thanks." Joan smiled, then leaned over to whisper in Mary's ear. "I was hoping Jonathan might be here..." Mary hastily shook her head. "I haven't heard from Jonathan since my grandmother died. He sent me a card from Little Jump Off." "You miss him a lot, don't you?" Joan asked softly. Mary nodded. "I miss both of them a lot." An odd little bubble of sadness encompassed the two friends, then the band started up again. As Hugh Chandler, Joan's longtime boyfriend, appeared from the buffet table and swept Joan onto the dance floor, Mary again felt Wyatt's hand on her arm. "May I have another dance, Ms. Crow?" he asked, courtly as ever. "I'd love to, Wyatt." Mary winked at Joan as she and Hugh swirled into a sea of couples. "Dance on, girlfriend," Mary called. "We don't get the Strutters every day." As Joan and Hugh whirled away, Wyatt began a languid two-step, perfect for the soft, soulful version of "Honeysuckle Rose" the Strutters were playing. He led her so perfectly to the music's rhythm that goose bumps ran down her spine. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you'd taken dancing lessons." "I spent one miserable year at Miss Forte's Ballroom Academy," Wyatt drawled. "I was thirteen and stood eyeball to collarbone with every girl in the class." Mary laughed. "You must have learned something, though." "Oh, I'm terrific when I have the right partner," he replied, swooping her in another quick, sexy circle. He pulled her closer. She nestled her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes again. His cheek was smooth and soft, and he clasped her hand against his chest so tightly, she could feel the beating of his heart. She smiled ruefully. Every unmarried woman in Atlanta would give her eyeteeth to be dancing with Wyatt Prentiss, the youngest man ever to make partner at Dawson, Church and Gahagan, yet all she could do was compare him with Jonathan Walkingstick. How Wyatt's muscled shoulders were sculpted at the gym instead of earned in the forest; how the hair on the nape of his neck grew bristly instead of soft, how he smelled of expensive sandalwood cologne, rather than Jonathan's Ivory soap. Stop it, she scolded herself. You and Jonathan gave it a shot, but it didn't work out. Now let it go. "You okay?" Wyatt was looking down at her. "Fine." Mary assured him. "Just trying to keep the beat." Wyatt held her close as the sax player took a long, smoky solo, then the husky-voiced singer began again. Just as the singer started the last chorus, Wyatt began dancing her quickly over to the other side of the floor. "Is something wrong?" Mary said, lifting her head at his abrupt movements. "Unless I'm seriously double-parked, I think someone wants to talk to you," said Wyatt. "There's a big, mean-looking cop motioning me over." Mary looked up, astonished. Wyatt hadn't been joking. On the far side of the room stood Martel Madison, former tackle for the Atlanta Falcons, now a Deckard County sheriff's deputy assigned to the courthouse. Although Martel stood with his cap under his arm, trying to look inconspicuous in the frock-coated crowd, he was failing miserably. Three hundred and fifteen solid pounds of armed, deputized power were hard to miss. "Martel?" Mary failed to keep the surprise out of her voice. "What are you doing here?" "Mr. Falkner said to come get you. He needs to see you right now." "What's the matter?" Mary had nothing on the docket; she wasn't scheduled to even show up in court until after New Year's. "Don't know. Falkner's up in his office with Santa Claus pants on, talking to some dude from D.C." Martel shrugged. "I just got the call to come here and take you back to the courthouse, ASAP." "Like this?" Mary gestured at the green silk maid-of-honor dress that wisped around her ankles. Surely Jim Falkner wouldn't actually call her away from Alex's wedding to come back to work. Martel shrugged again. "I just do what they tell me, Ms. Crow." Mary looked around. Already some of the wedding guests had begun to stare, curious about why an armed officer had intruded on the festivities. "Okay, Martel," she sighed. "Go wait in your squad. I'll be there in three minutes." She watched as Martel disappeared through the doorway, then turned back to Wyatt, smiling apologetically. "Looks like you'll have to finish this dance with someone else." "Can't do without you, can they, Mary?" "I guess not." Usually she didn't mind being called back to work. Tonight she did. Tonight was her best friend's wedding. Tonight was the most fun she'd had in a long, long time. Wyatt squeezed her hand, which still rested in the crook of his arm. "I'm sorry you have to go. Any chance we could get together over the holidays? We could go to Mack Church's eggnog frolic. It's the day after Christmas." "I don't know, Wyatt. Jim Falkner keeps me pretty busy." "Well, don't say no yet. Call me if you get free. We'll just make an appearance, then go do something fun." "Okay. I'll try." She pecked him on the cheek, then she began to move through the crowd toward Martel's squad car. She wished she could say good-bye to Alex before she left, but the bride and groom stood engulfed by a crowd of well-wishers. As Mary twisted through the crowd toward the doorway, she glanced back over her shoulder. Alex had seen her and was looking at her, her expression at once knowing and sad. "I have to go!" Mary mouthed. Alex nodded. Smiling, she gave Mary a thumbs-up sign, then blew her a kiss. Mary stopped for a moment, wanting to freeze Alex's image like a photograph. A clear winter evening, the ballroom looking magical as a snowflake, Alex beautiful and happy and waving good-bye. From here on, their lives would go down different paths. Mary would still know her dearest friend, but never again in quite the same way as before. She swallowed as sudden tears stung her eyes, then she walked out of the ballroom and headed toward the squad car. Alex had a man to love. Mary probably had another one to hang. Chapter 2 FaithAmerica Pac Headquarters San Francisco, California December 23 "Brothers and sisters, last night I had a dream. I dreamed that all of us rose up like a mighty army and got rid of the false idols around us. We got rid of the violence in our schools and the smut on our airways. We got rid of the poison in our water and the filth in our air. Then, when got rid of all those things, we looked around for the ones who put them there. The ones who pretend to act for us, like wise old Solomon, but who are really selling us out, just like Judas. I'm telling you, brothers and sisters, someday soon these false Solomons will crumble. Then we'll be able to take America back!" An endless loop of Reverend Gerald LeClaire's words echoed through the long hall. Escorted by a security guard, former Sergeant Robert Wurth heard LeClaire's famous "Solomon" speech over and over again, along with ten-second segments of cheers, whistles, and a thunderous chanting of "Take America back!" that separated the sound bites. In a way, the preacher's words reminded Wurth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, soaring oratory. In another way, LeClaire brought back the memory of the carnies who rolled into his hometown every fall and inveigled little boys to part with their quarters for peeks at three-breasted women and grotesquely misshapen livestock. "You ever get tired of hearing that?" Wurth asked the armed guard who walked at his side. "Not when I'm listening to the next President of the United States." The guard glared self-righteously at Wurth, who gave up on any further conversation and followed him to the end of the hall, where the guard opened a door marked "Apostles." "They're waiting for you in there," he said without smiling. Wurth stepped into a large, low-ceilinged room, one entire wall of which was covered by a photograph of Gerald LeClaire, barefoot on the beach, gazing at the sun setting over the sea. In front of that photo-mural sat seven men at a long table, decidedly not smiling and not in any mood for a frolic on the beach. "Sergeant Wurth." The man in the center of the table locked eyes with Wurth. "Just the man we've been waiting for." Wurth strode toward them, his footsteps soundless on the thick carpeting, the collective gaze of the seven hard upon him. This was worse than he'd thought. He figured he'd have some explaining to do to Richard Dunbar. He had no idea all the FaithAmerica powers would be here. A foot from the center of the table, he stopped and struck the pose he always took at times like this -- standing at ease, his legs slightly spread, his arms behind his back. His only concession to the room and the men was a quarter he rolled across his fingers, a feat of legerdemain he'd used for thirty years to keep his hands from trembling when he felt on edge. "I've got just one question for you, Wurth," snarled Dunbar. "Yes?" "What the hell did your boy mean by this?" Dunbar held up a picture of Rosemary Klinefelter, or at least the body of Rosemary Klinefelter, sitting primly in her judicial robe, her own head nestled in her lap. "I guess my boy got carried away," Wurth said, working the coin behind his back. "He was young. It happens, sometimes." "He got carried away?" Dunbar repeated incredulously. "Wurth, next month I've got to deliver a fulfilled prophecy to ten thousand FaithAmericans who are poised to begin the presidential campaign of Gerald LeClaire. Now is not the time for any of your people to get carried away!" "I realize that." Wurth kept his voice soft. "Then why the fuck did he cut off her head?" shrieked Dunbar, the large vein that bisected his forehead swelling with rage. "I thought I made it clear to you -- these judges are supposed to be killed by the hand of God. Not some teenage ninja-in-training!" Wurth kept his eyes straight ahead. "The Army doesn't consider an operative reliable until they've eliminated half a dozen targets. This was Forrester's third." There was a tap on the door. All the men looked past Wurth as a young woman in a black uniform entered the room bearing a tray laden with coffee. Dunbar quickly swept the gruesome photograph into his lap as she put a steaming cup in front of every man seated at the table, along with a big basket of pastries. "Anything else, Mr. Dunbar?" "Not right now, Judy." Chameleon-like, Dunbar beamed appreciatively, looking, in Wurth's estimation, exactly like the slimy huckster he was. Gold rings on his fingers, razor-cut hair moussed to perfection. And so much cologne that Wurth knew none of the men seated at the table would taste their crullers at all. They would sit there and consume little morsels of Polo or whatever the hell Dunbar doused himself in. Excerpted from A Darker Justice by Sallie Bissell 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.