Cover image for The fugitive king
The fugitive king
Shaber, Sarah R.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. martin's Minotaur, 2002.
Physical Description:
230 pages ; 22 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Mystery

On Order



rofessor Simon Shaws latest adventure begins when a forest ranger discovers an old pickup truck and its skeleton passenger at the base of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Boone, North Carolina. The remains are identified as those of Eva Potter, whose allegedmurderer, Roy Freedman, has been in prison for over forty years. Freedman insists that he is innocent and persuades Simon to use his training as a forensic historian to clear his name. As Simon collects evidence, he comes to believe that Freedman confessed to Evas murder to hide a great secret, but uncovering it could cost Simon his life.

Author Notes

Sarah R. Shaber lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her family. Her first novel, Simon Said, was the 1996 St. Martin's Press/ Malice Domestic Contest winner for Best First traditional mystery.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In his third adventure, Raleigh, North Carolina, history professor Simon Shaw is held at gunpoint by escaped convict Roy Freedman. Freedman wants Simon, who has received notoriety as a "forensic historian," to investigate the death of his girlfriend, whom he confessed to killing in 1958. Simon convinces Freedman to turn himself in, fully intending to ignore his appeal, but problems with his ex-wife and current girlfriend leave him needing something to occupy his mind now that the summer semester is over. Simon heads to his Appalachian boyhood home to visit his aunt and cousins and, tangentially, to look into Freedman's claim of innocence. Details of college life and small-town Appalachia, historical research, and humor are nicely interwoven into the story. Simon is a sympathetic, well-developed character who is dealing with depression, his parents' deaths, and the return to his boyhood haunts. An engaging mystery in a too-little-known series. --Sue O'Brien

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his third winning cozy (Simon Says; Snipe Hunt), history professor Simon Shaw's journey to "the homeplace" in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains is interrupted by an escaped convict, Roy Freedman, who at gunpoint asks his help in finding evidence to support Freedman's claim of innocence for a murder committed decades before. Once home, the obliging prof taps into the local collective memory, gossiping with his kin and acquaintances at the sheriff's department. What he finds is unsettling. Why was so little evidence recorded at the time of the murder? What motive would drive Freedman to plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit and serve 40 years in prison? Learning the answers to these questions may prove more dangerous than Simon bargained for. Shaber excels at depicting local color, from Appalachian geology and native flora, to evocative glimpses of postwar rural America. With his migraines, tenure worries and wounded feelings after a spat with his girlfriend, the 30-something Simon comes across as likable and all too human-we understand why his relations are glad to see him. Minor characters also have their appealing foibles, especially Simon's uncle and aunt, Mel and Rae, who are separated because Mel looks forward to retirement and Rae would "die if she stopped working." A chatty style is perfectly suited to an investigation that depends so much on conversation and characters' reminiscences. (Sept. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Shortly after authorities discover a female skeleton just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, Professor Simon Shaw (Simon Says) is taken hostage by an escaped convict in Raleigh. Said convict confessed to killing the woman back in 1958, though her body was never found, but now he wants Shaw, a forensic historian, to prove him innocent. The convict returns to prison, and Shaw finally decides to investigate, putting a huge glitch in his love life. Forensic research details, historical facts about ethnic Melungeons and Appalachia, and frequent reminders of North Carolina academia provide plot cement. Solid, middle-of-the-road prose recommends this cozy to larger collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



No one our age sneaks out of bed and slips away in the middle of the night anymore," Simon said. "I'm just not comfortable staying here all night," Julia said. "Chalk it up it to a traditional Southern upbringing, honey, and take me home. I've got to be in court at nine in the morning." "I thought it was men who couldn't commit," Simon said. Still grumbling under his breath, Simon pressed the accelerator with his bare foot, backing slowly down his driveway and into the street. He set his windshield wipers to their slowest speed to deal with the gentle rain, almost a mist, that had been falling all evening. The rain was a blessing; Raleigh had sweltered all day and into the early evening. He and Julia had abandoned his screened porch to eat dinner inside, where his antique air conditioner labored to cool his house down into the high seventies. If July was this hot, what would August be like? It wasn't far from Simon's home in the old 1920s neighborhood of Cameron Park to Julia's new townhouse near the Governor's Mansion. They lived "inside the beltline," in Raleigh parlance, where pre-war neighborhoods, state capitol buildings, museums, and colleges clustered. Simon taught at Kenan College, a tiny school compared with that red-and-white behemoth, North Carolina State University, which sprawled a few blocks away down Hillsborough Street. Two other prestigious institutions, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were nearby. But Simon preferred teaching at Kenan, despite the Pulitzer Prize that could have been his ticket to the Ivy League. Julia was a bit of an underachiever, too, although she wasn't as comfortable with it as Simon was. She was legal counsel to the Raleigh Police Department. She grumbled about the low pay and constant on-call status, but made no real effort to leave the job. As Simon turned onto Jones Street, he slowed, startled by the sight of a rack of rotating red-and-blue lights, blurry in the rain. A Capitol Police car was parked at a slant across the road, leaving just one lane for traffic. Simon saw the policeman inside speaking into his radio, and could hear the crackling static of a reply. A block further along Simon came upon a State Highway Patrol car. Two officers were inside, their Smokey-the-Bear hats bent over a dashboard computer screen. "I wonder what's going on?" Julia asked. "I have no idea, but it must be big, if both the Capitol Police and the Highway Patrol are involved. I wonder where your colleagues are?" He found out at the intersection of Peace and Blount Streets, where a Raleigh policeman, wearing a bright yellow rain slicker, directed him to go left, instead of straight toward the Governor's Mansion and the row of townhouses where Julia lived. Simon flicked on his turn signal to indicate a right turn, and pointed right. The policeman shook his head, and forcefully signaled to Simon's left with the two flashlights he held in his hands. The bright beams formed tunnels of light in the rain. "Hope the governor's okay," Julia said. As Simon turned the wheel to follow the policeman's directions, Julia took his arm to restrain him. "Pull over," she said. "I want to find out what's going on." Simon obediently did so. Julia stuck her arm out her window, waving her ID at the policeman who approached them. "Hey there, Ms. McGloughlin," he said, touching the tip of his hat to her. Without a pause he nodded to Simon. "Hello, Dr. Shaw." "What's up?" Julia asked. "Escaped convict," the policeman said. "Someone broke out of Central Prison?" Simon said. The new prison was supposed to be impregnable, a good thing considering its proximity to downtown. "Nah, that place is escape-proof," the policeman said. "This guy was incarcerated at Wake Correctional Center. He's been working the evening shift at the Governor's Mansion for years. Tonight he assaulted a guard, took his shotgun, and was out the back door and over the wall before anyone could sound the alarm." "He can't be dangerous," Julia said, "if he's been working at the Mansion." The soft rain was falling a little harder, and the policeman scrunched up inside his rainsuit. "What was he in for?" Simon asked. "Murder." "Uh, oh," Julia said. "It was a domestic thing. He pled guilty." "I didn't know you could serve a life sentence for murder in minimum security," Simon said. "You can if you earn enough points for good behavior," Julia said. "This guy's had no infractions during the forty years he's been in prison," the policeman said. "But he's considered armed and dangerous now, so keep your doors locked tonight, Ms. McGloughlin." A few minutes later Simon parked in front of Julia's place. "See?" Simon said. "That policeman recognized me. Everyone knows we're a couple." "Get over it," Julia said. "It's not as if you want to stay here overnight." "All those down pillows you've got make me sneeze," Simon said. Julia collected her oversized bag from the floor of the car. Simon leaned over and surprised her with a tender kiss. She hated it when he did that. She preferred to know in advance when intimacy was likely, so she could feel in control of herself. She didn't want to like Simon any more than she already did. When the two of them started dating, she told herself that it was just until she found Mr. Right, who was taller, richer, and more ambitious than Simon. "Let me walk you to the door," Simon said. "Not necessary," Julia said. "I'm packing heat, remember?" She tipped her open handbag toward him so that he could see her handgun. Simon harrumphed. "Don't scoff," she said. "You never know when you might need one of these babies." She patted the revolver affectionately before closing her handbag. Simon and Julia differed on the issue of civilian handgun ownership. Simon opposed a new North Carolina state law making it legal for almost anyone to carry a concealed weapon, for "protection." Of course Julia was practically a policewoman, and frequented the Raleigh Police Department shooting range to practice. * * * Once inside his own home Simon locked his front door but didn't bother to turn on the lights. Glare from the streetlights outside his windows lit his way around the first floor of his Craftsman-style bungalow. He picked up a hair elastic off the floor, all Julia had left behind. She kept nothing permanently at his house, not even a toothbrush. Simon tried not to think what that meant about their relationship. He hooked the elastic over a doorknob, where Julia could find it the next time she was over. He wasn't really hungry, but he opened his refrigerator door out of habit. He tore a wing and a thigh off the chicken they had for dinner. He munched on the thigh and broke the wing into sections, putting them in his cats' bowls. Where were his cats, anyway? They should be rubbing up against his legs and whining. "Ladies?" he called out. There was no response. Worried, Simon opened the back door and called them. Still no cats. Then he heard a scuffling noise behind him. He looked under his kitchen table, and, sure enough, there they were, Maybelline, who couldn't be true, and her daughter Ruby, who took her love to town, hunkered down and scrunched up against the back wall of the kitchen. "What's wrong with you?" he asked. "There's roast chicken out here. Teriyaki, your favorite. Come on out." The cats didn't move. Maybe they were frightened by the heat lighting flashing outside. Or maybe they weren't hungry. They'd had plenty of scraps while he and Julia fixed dinner. Simon got a Coke out of the refrigerator and walked into the living room on his way upstairs to bed. Just as he stepped on the bottom tread of his staircase, he realized why his cats were cowering in the kitchen. He sensed, rather than saw, that a stranger was in his house. He turned quickly, looking for something to use to defend himself, wishing his baseball bat was within reach instead of upstairs under his bed. "Don't do it, Professor Shaw," a voice said. The man sat in the living room next to the fireplace in Simon's favorite chair, the Mission armchair upholstered in cracked brown leather that he'd inherited from his parents. The intruder was dressed in a tuxedo with the top shirt button undone and his tie loosened. A shotgun lay across his lap, casually pointed toward Simon, right at his lower body. "Don't move," the man said. "I haven't shot a gun in years, but believe me, I haven't forgotten how." "What do you want?" Simon asked. "I've got a little cash on me, and ..." "Sit down, Professor Shaw," the man said, waving Simon into the living room with his shotgun. Simon did the obvious. He went to sit on his sofa opposite the intruder. He felt fairly calm, except for the little tic that fluttered over his right eye. When his adrenaline stopped flowing, whenever that was, he'd probably get a migraine. "I know who you are," Simon said. "The cops are all over downtown. You're the prisoner who escaped from the Governor's Mansion tonight. You assaulted the guard." "Assaulted? They said that?" the man laughed. "The guard was eating leftover appetizers with both hands. His shotgun was leaning up against the wall ten feet away. I just picked it up and locked him in the pantry. He promised to give me fifteen minutes' head start before he started hollering if I said he'd put up a fight." "So," Simon said, trying to sound conversational. "You know my name?" "I read about you in the newspaper. I don't want to hurt you," the man continued, slightly raising the shotgun off his lap and then lowering it to his knee again. "I just want to talk to you about something, okay?" "Talk away," Simon said. "I've messed up what there is left of my life by coming here. After I get caught, which I'm not deluded enough to think won't happen, I'll get sent to Central Prison, maximum security. No more working at the mansion, no television, no money to spend at the canteen, no one to play checkers with. If I don't have your full attention, I might get a little frustrated. And I'm a good shot, at least I used to be. I won't hesitate to blow off your kneecap if you don't listen to me. I got nothing to lose." "I'm listening, I'm listening." Simon's captor was clean-shaven, with salt-and-pepper hair cut very short, small square hands, a thick body, black eyes, and an olive complexion. His face suggested something familiar to Simon, something not personal, but ethnic, but he couldn't place it. He was probably taller than Simon, but that wasn't saying much. Simon guessed he was around five-six or seven. He wasn't overweight, but he carried some fat around his middle. It was hard to say how old he was. His face was smooth and unlined, but then he'd spent most of his life indoors, in prison, hadn't he? "You're a hard man to get in touch with," the man said. "You could have written," Simon said, "or called. You didn't have to break into my house." "I wrote and called several times. Your secretary put me off." Of course she did. Ever since he had solved that World War II-era murder at Pearlie Beach, Simon had been fending off requests for his services. The term "forensic historian" had been bandied about by the local newspaper and TV stations. The North Carolina Historical Review printed an extra two thousand copies of the issue that contained his article on Carl Chavis's murder. He'd been the News and Observer 's Tar Heel of the week and appeared on public television's N. C. People . Simon enjoyed all the attention, to a revolting degree, according to his friends, but not enough to consciously continue his sleuthing. Solving Chavis's murder had opened decades-old wounds and impacted so many innocent lives, it had exhausted him emotionally. So he got a new, unlisted, home phone number, and his secretary informed all who inquired after him that he was not for hire. "My name is Roy Freedman, I'm sixty-three years old, and I've spent the last forty-odd years in prison for murder. I didn't do it." "No, not really," Simon said, and instantly regretted his sarcasm. But Freedman just grinned. "Yeah," he said. "There are no guilty people in prison. Furthermore, I pled guilty. I had to. Otherwise any jury raised in Watauga County would have sent me to the gas chamber. But I digress." Freedman made sure that his shotgun stayed aimed right at Simon's knee as he dug into his pocket. He retrieved two folded newspaper clippings, which he shook open with his free hand. He dropped one in his lap and handed one to Simon. "This was in the newspaper a few weeks ago," he said. "Did you see it?" "Yeah," Simon said, scanning the account of a mountain car wreck. He hadn't read the story through. It reminded him too much of his parents' fatal accident. A tractor trailer with locked brakes forced them off U.S. 421 going down the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their car crashed through a guardrail and landed in a pine tree three hundred feet below, killing them both instantly. "Read it," Freedman said. Simon read it. PARKWAY GIVES UP MORE OF ITS DEAD * * * The U.S. Park Service announced today that the skeleton of a young woman was discovered inside a truck beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway on Friday. According to a spokesman for the Park Service, the remains were found in a Ford pickup bearing a 1958 license plate. The medical examiner's preliminary report described the remains as those of a young female whose corpse had most likely been at the scene since that time. The skeleton has been sent to the North Carolina medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for autopsy. The sheriff's office, is searching its records for missing persons reports filed in 1958. The state division of motor vehicles expects to identify the owner of the pickup from its license registration within twenty-four hours, a DMV spokesman said earlier today. Ranger Gary Gwyn, who with an unidentified ALE agent discovered the remains, speculated that the victim had a single car accident, plunging 450 feet off the parkway into dense vegetation where the vehicle lay undiscovered until now. This accident is not the first of its kind. The parkway is filled with brushy, overgrown areas that can conceal wreckage. Unwitnessed wrecks can be lost for days or weeks, and now, it seems, even for years. Ranger Gwyn cited speeding, driving while impaired, and driving while sleepy as the chief causes of accidents. Continue... Excerpted from the fugitive king by Sarah R. Shaber Copyright © 2002 by Sarah R. Shaber Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.