Cover image for Winter's end
Winter's end
Rickards, John.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
297 pages ; 22 cm
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Electronic Access:
Publisher description
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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



As a violent storm rages over the small town of Winter's End, Sheriff Dale Townsend comes upon a chilling scene--a young man, knives in his hands and the body of a woman at his feet.

But the enigmatic suspect refuses to answer any questions, and, bizarrely, there is no forensic evidence to link him to the crime.

So Sheriff Townsend he calls his childhood friend Alex Rourke back to his sleepy home town in wooded hills of north-eastern Maine. After an absence of nearly twenty years, Rourke--ex-FBI interrogator turned private eye--is an expert in navigating the twisted pathways of murderous minds.

But this killer is twisted indeed and very, very clever. And--as a pervading sense of evil descends upon the town--Rourke realizes he may well be an integral part the killer's game. A game that is not yet over....

Author Notes

John Rickards is a freelance journalist living in England. Winter's End is his first novel.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After coming upon a young man standing in the middle of a highway, knives in his hands, staring down at the body of a woman he's apparently just stabbed to death, Sheriff Dale Townsend, from Winter's End, Maine, figures it's bound to be more complicated than it looks. He's right. Although obviously the killer, knife man refuses to give his name, discuss what happened, identify the victim, or see a lawyer. Knowing he needs help, Townsend calls on his old friend, Boston PI Alex Rourke. Alex is equally baffled, especially when the suspect tells him, I've been waiting for you to show up. Just as the case is about to break, though, knife man escapes from jail and murders again. He seems to have some grand plan in mind, but what is it? To answer that question, Rourke must confront unresolved and difficult issues in his own personal life. Suspenseful from beginning to end, fast-paced and packed with unusual twists, this is a fine debut from a promising new author. --Emily Melton Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

First novelist Rickards ventures tentatively into Thomas Harris territory with mixed results. Boston-based PI Alex Rourke, a former FBI agent who worked on profiling serial killers, gets dragged out of his routine by a murder in Winter's End, Maine, where he grew up. The local sheriff calls Rourke for help when his undermanned department is confronted with a puzzle-a half-naked man was found crouching over a mutilated corpse with knives in his hands, but he refused to identify himself or explain what he was doing at the murder scene. The suspect does open up a little under Rourke's interrogation, but his cryptic responses suggest that he's playing with the detectives, and, more disturbingly, that he waited to be caught so that Rourke would become involved in the case. The clues reveal that the placid rural image of Winter's End is a facade, and that past sins have come back to haunt its leading citizens. While the book succeeds as an atmospheric page-turner, the taunting of the former profiler by an intelligent psychotic who seems to know many personal details is derivative of Hannibal Lecter's games-playing with his adversaries without offering anything new or interesting. Rickards even has his hero and an undeveloped love interest watch a Lecter movie on a date. The final payoff is disappointingly predictable, and the absence of a clever twist lessens the book's overall impact. (Dec. 8) Forecast: A blurb from Peter Robinson, prominently displayed on the jacket, will help boost sales, as will comparisons to Thomas Harris, whose Hannibal Lecter continues to exert his dark appeal. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Sheriff Dale Townsend asks for an old friend's help in interrogating a very slippery and clever murder suspect in small-town Maine. Dale himself found the suspect standing over the victim clutching the alleged murder weapon, but the guy refuses to give his name or answer any questions. When Dale's PI friend Alex Rourke, an ex-FBI agent good at interrogation, appears, he bores a few chinks in the guy's armor. Strangely, the suspect knows about Alex and seemed to expect him. An attention-getting plot, riveting prose, calculated suspense, and tense, human-interest subplotting mark this noteworthy first novel. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



  Winter's End PART ONE HAPPY RETURNS "Happy he who still can hope to rise, Emerging from this sea of fear and doubt! What no man knows, alone could make us wise; And what we know, we well could do without." --Goethe, Faust PROLOGUE "I don't know why Jimmy insists on playing him," Sheriff Dale Townsend says, raising his voice over the hammering rain and the swish of the Jeep's wipers. "It's obvious the guy just isn't locked in. His confidence is shot, he's tensed up, and he's gripping the bat too hard. Jimmy should rest him a couple of games, give him a chance to get his head right, then bring him back for the end of season run-in." His companion, Deputy Andy Miller, keeps both hands on the wheel and his eyes firmly on the pool of light in front of the vehicle. "Rendall hit three-eighty last year," he says. "You can't write off a guy like that, especially when we could still make the title. He'll come good." "Maybe." Dale rubs his hands and stares absent-mindedly out at the darkened landscape. A flash of lightning shocks the trees bordering the highway, a jumble of drenched foliage and stark blue shadows. Darkness returns as a shift in the tone of the wind tells him that they have left the woods behind. Four miles of flat grassland before the trees come back as the road reaches the town. Four miles to home. He checks his watch. "Your wife waiting to give you hell when you get in?" asks the deputy. "Naw, she knows I'm going to be home late, even if I can't be sure of the exact time when the weather's so goddam miserable." "When's your car going to be finished in the shop?" "Tomorrow. That's what they tell me, anyway." "Well, if it takes longer, you're welcome to keep hitching a ride with me. Until my shift changes next week, anyhow." Sheriff Townsend is about to reply when the lightning flashes again and his attention is grabbed by something ahead on the highway. "What the hell?" he says. The deputy eases off the gas and, on reflex, hits the blue and red strobes. The twin headlight beams pick out a man who is bare from the waist up with rain dancing from his exposed skin. Townsend's first, almost unconscious thought is that he must be freezing cold. The man is staring calmly at the ground in front of him, absolutely still, with his hands at his sides. In each of them he holds a hunting knife. At his feet is the naked body of a woman, her flesh white in the glare. "Andy, call Dispatch," Townsend says. He draws his pistol and reaches for the door, then steps out into the downpour. The water hits him like a cold shower as he raises the comforting weight of his gun and carefully sights up on the figure in front of him. "Aroostook County Sheriff's Department!" he shouts. "Put down the knives and step slowly over to the vehicle with your hands where I can see 'em." To his left, the other door opens and Andy steps out, the dim crackle of the radio still faintly audible behind him. The deputy mirrors Townsend's movements, keeping his gun trained, ready to shoot. The man, who Townsend guesses is young, no older than his mid-twenties, looks up, and his gaze settles on the sheriff. Face pale from the cold. Dark hair drenched. Eyes black pits reflecting the blue and red flashes from the Jeep's lights. A slow, almost mocking smile spreads across his face as he gently places the knives on the ground. Then he strides calmly to the Jeep, keeping his hands in the air. Andy cuffs him and frisks him for other weapons while Townsend goes to check on the woman. She looks to be in her late thirties, with shoulder-length dark hair and a trim build. Her face is familiar and quite attractive, despite the unreal presence death brings. Her chest is a welter of slashes and stab marks washed clean by the rain. Townsend has little real hope of finding her alive, but checks for a pulse as a matter of procedure. Nothing. Lightning flashes again and, if anything, the rain gets harder. "Arrest this guy on suspicion of murder," he calls out to the deputy behind him. "And notify the Chief Medical Examiner's Office. We'll need to get someone out here." 1 The morning is well underway by the time I reach the red brick building in Boston's Fenway district, not far from Kenmore Square, that serves as my office, workplace, and home away from home. I can feel the glare of the May sunshine on my back, warm despite the cool air. The sky is glacial blue with scattered flecks of distant cloud. I glance around before crossing the road and see a group of half a dozen students from Boston University, a short way along the river, emerging from Rick's, my local coffee bar. A plastic cup of the establishment's finest is nestled warmly--a little too warmly for comfort, in fact--in my hand. I need it this morning. I'm tired, breakfast was four hours ago in a cramped diner full of truckers and construction workers on the early shift, and I had one too many drinks last night. All in the line of duty. I climb the steps and push my way into the burgundy carpeted foyer. Five companies share the building with mine, our names picked out in silvered lettering on a board by the twin elevators. For a moment, I think about taking the stairs on the false premise that the extra exercise would do me good. As always, I push the elevator call button instead. Inside, I examine my appearance in the mirrored walls. I look exactly like I feel: dog-tired and in need of a shave, a shower, and a decent night's sleep. I consider trying to clean myself up a little, but eventually decide that it's not worth it. If I have to impress any clients today, I'll rely on the remaining store of charm in my weary eyes. On better days, I'm told I bear a vague resemblance to a gaunt version of Cary Grant. Today, I'll settle for a vague resemblance to a member of the human race. As the elevator doors slide open, I manage to fumble a cigarette one-handed out of the pocket of my battered tan leather jacket and into my mouth. I keep promising to cut down from my current thirty-odd a day, but I never seem to get around to it. I make a left into reception and wave good morning to Jean, our secretary, as I bring up the lighter, spark, and inhale. My lungs flood with nicotine, carcinogens, and black oozing crap. All the ingredients of a nutritious breakfast. The sign on the open door behind me reads: "Robin Garrett Associates." In smaller writing underneath it adds: "Licensed private investigators, process servers, business security and criminal consultants." I amble through the interior door next to Jean's desk and into our spacious squad room-style office. Five desks, a coffee machine and water cooler, lines of steel shelving, and a half dozen filing cabinets. Fake-leather swivel chairs, a couple of potted plants, a few framed photos on the walls. Only two of our trio of junior staff are in at the moment, and both are busy on the phone. As I place my coffee on the desk and settle into my chair, the man whose desk faces mine across the room calls out, "Made it at last, I see." Robin Garrett is, technically, my boss, which makes me one of his associates. In reality we're more like partners, and we've been friends for years longer than the three I've been working with him. He started out as a lone operator, expanding the business as things picked up. Since I joined to make us a duo, we've added Jean, three more investigators, and our relatively plush office to the company. A couple of years ago we considered changing its name to something like "Garrett and Rourke Associates," giving each of us a share of title. In the end, we decided against it, since it would only confuse our existing clients. "Morning, Rob," I say as I leaf through the mail on my desk and take a sip of my coffee. "What kind of time do you call this?" He's not really annoyed, he just likes playing the overbearing boss every once in a while. It's a routine we're both well used to. "I call it half past ten," I say. "If it's got another name, I haven't heard it." "Overslept or hung over? You only live down the road, so it can't be the traffic." "None of the above. Working." He raises a sarcastic eyebrow. "Well I'll be damned. Who are you and what have you done with Alex?" "Nothing a month's sleep and a couple of painkillers won't solve. We can tell the Ingrams that Little Jamie is living with his girlfriend, Chrissie Evans, in an apartment on Bedford Avenue. She's still a college student, he's currently Employee of the Month at Miss Mona's Fried Chicken on Douglas. Having been there, I can only say that he can't have had much competition for the award. He's still not keen on getting back in touch with his folks, but I did manage to extract his permission to give them his number." I take a long gulp of the gritty, extra-strong espresso. "I spent yesterday evening with some of Chrissie's friends, and the night in the company car outside her apartment, waiting for her or Jamie to show. Eight-thirty they got in. We talked. Nice enough kid, I guess, even if neither of us were at our best." "So we can hand the Ingrams our final bill. Another satisfied customer," Rob says with a contented smile on his face. "I wouldn't call them that until they've seen the bill," I retort, flashing him a tired grin. "Anything new doing down here?" "A couple of bread-and-butter jobs. The kids are working on them now. I've got some more tidying up work for Tynon, Oliver and Co. on the Sefton case. Oh, and you had a call from some Hicksville County Sheriff's Office, said they needed you to give 'em a ring. Name and number's on your desk somewhere." Rob is from Chicago and never ceases to look down his nose at everything from anywhere not covered by city concrete, including my own roots in what he likes to think of as the "Great White North." There's no malice in his opinions; like his company boss routine earlier, it's just part of his repertoire. I scan the desk for a note in my partner's barely legible handwriting. After a couple of seconds, my eye picks out a scrap of envelope bearing a number and the name Dale Townsend. I know Dale. Or rather, I used to know Dale. We both grew up in the same small town and Chris, his younger brother by two years, was my best friend when we were kids. In the seventeen years since I left to go to college, I've spoken with Dale on only one occasion, a year and a half ago. That time, it was business. A burglar was working stores in the smaller towns around Presque Isle in the east of Aroostook County, Maine. The perpetrator would smash through the front door at night with a sledgehammer, then run inside and grab the cash register before making an equally fast exit. He never worried about setting off alarms or the cameras catching him; he kept his face hidden and relied on his speed to foil attempts to apprehend him. The cops would usually find the register a few streets away, open and empty. An attorney who'd worked in Boston until a few months beforehand suggested to Dale that they might want to give my firm a call, since we'd dealt with a similar burglar for a traders' association in the city. Dale phoned me, and I looked at what his office and the Maine State Police had turned up. The first robbery, at a place called JP's, seemed the most carefully timed and planned, and consequently had netted the largest haul. I suggested they take a good look at the store's staff and former staff, as well as their friends. The thief turned out to be the boyfriend of the assistant manager's sister, well placed to know when the shop would be at its fattest and what kind of security it had. No boasting; I didn't solve the crime. A security camera at a truck stop on US 1 caught the license plate of his pickup truck during a break-in. But I helped out. I wonder what Dale wants now. Maybe he has something else to throw at me, or maybe this is just a social call. I pick up the phone and punch in the number. It rings once, twice, before a voice says, "Sheriff Townsend." "Dale? This is Alex Rourke. You tried getting in touch with me earlier. How are things?" "Alex! Long time, no see. Things aren't too bad up here. A little hectic right now." His voice is gruff and throaty. The last time we worked together, we only spoke over the phone, so I have no idea how much he has changed from when I last saw him in person, nearly two decades ago. From the voice, I find myself imagining Dale with a beard and a truck driver's physique. "How's Chris?" I say. "Still in the Coast Guard?" "Yeah. He says he'll be home for a few weeks some time in September. You'll have to come up and get together for a drink." "I'll do that. What's on your mind?" "We've got a funny situation on our hands and I figured you might be able to help out like you did with the Sharp case." His use of the term "funny situation" piques my interest. "Sure," I say. "Fire away." "On the night of the fifteenth we took a guy in on a murder charge. We found him standing on the highway nearly four miles south of town, with the body of the victim at his feet and two knives in his hands." "South of Winter's End?" It's where Dale and I grew up, a small town in the wooded hills of northeastern Maine that make up the tail-end of the Appalachians. Murder has always been rare in the county, and rarer still in the town. I can't remember hearing of a single case in the eighteen years I lived there. This must be a hot crime locally. "Yeah," Dale continues. "According to the medical examiner and the State Police crime scene unit, the knives the guy was holding were the right dimensions to be the murder weapons. The victim had been dead less than an hour, probably less than half an hour, before we found her." "Okay, so you've got the suspect at the scene at around the time of death, with the murder weapons in his hands and the vic at his feet. Sounds pretty open and shut." "It does, doesn't it? That's where the complications come in," Dale says. He sounds bothered by whatever these "complications" are. "Firstly, we haven't been able to find the guy's prints on the body or the weapons. That might be because of the way the knives' hilts are dimpled, and could have been made worse by the rain." "It was raining?" "Like you wouldn't believe. I nearly got drowned making the arrest. I was on my way home at the time, looking forward to a warm house and a hot dinner. Some luck." "So what else was there?" "In two days we haven't been able to find any blood traces on the guy or his clothing--he was wearing nothing from the waist up, by the way. Nothing on the road either, thanks to the downpour, so we can't be a hundred percent certain that it actually was where the murder took place." As I recall, cold water is one of the most effective ways of getting rid of blood. Some time spent in heavy rain might have done the trick. "Were there any marks on either of them? Any signs that she put up a fight?" "Not a scratch. Some bruising on her right arm, looks like grip marks from where she'd been held by someone. She was naked and we haven't been able to find her clothes. Again, that means there's a chance she wasn't killed where we found her." "Who was she?" "Angela Lamond, forty, a nurse at the doctor's in town. We checked her house, turned up nothing." I nod to myself. "Who's the guy?" There's a pause at the other end of the line and a long-drawn breath that might be a sigh. "That's the biggest problem. We don't know, and he won't tell us. There was no ID on him. We ran his prints through IAFIS, no dice. He doesn't have a record. We've tried what checks we can do through the NCIC and VICAP--pretty sketchy on what little we've got--and also drawn a blank so far. I've sent out the guy's photo and details direct to the rest of the state's agencies, as well as posting them further afield. Nothing as yet." "DNA?" "There wasn't any evidence of sexual assault, so I'm not expecting him to show up on the CODIS Forensic Index. We're checking through the State Crime Lab in Augusta anyway." There's another pause, shorter this time. "We've got the guy at the scene, but without knowing anything about him we don't have a motive unless he tells us why he did it. It leaves a gap in the case against him that the DA would prefer to have filled. Hell, we might even have a hard time proving he had the means to do it if it turns out he was just some wandering vagrant. I was wondering if you ever handled anything like this while you were with the Feds. You hold lectures on difficult interrogation for local law enforcement down in Boston, don't you?" "Not very often but, yeah, I do. Nothing major: just the occasional 'guest speaker' thing for rookie recruits. I did courses on it at the Academy and again when I started working for the Bureau's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime." A long time ago, I add in the privacy of my own head. "Good. If you can, I want you to come up to Houlton and have a talk with our John Doe to see if you can get anything out of him." "Don't the State Police have someone who can question him?" "They're not involved in the interrogation. They did the scene investigation and most of the legwork on the case, but he's our suspect." "How talkative is he?" I ask. "Enough, just not about himself or the murder. Hasn't said a damn thing about either." "Who's representing him?" "So far he's turned down the right to an attorney. Said he had all the lawyers he could ever need, but that he didn't think they were necessary right now." I hesitate for a moment, thinking. It's not often that a county sheriff has such a personal involvement in an investigation. Normally, most of the actual work on a murder case would be carried out by the State Police Criminal Investigation Division. Dale must be under a lot of pressure for his department to solve the crime, and to solve it themselves, such is the likely local importance of this case. If he left it to the State or another outside agency he'd lose serious face, and with it perhaps his job. "Sure," I say, glancing at Rob. My partner is making "all quiet here, go ahead" gestures at me from across the office. "It's going to be a long drive, so I'll leave first thing tomorrow morning and aim to get there about lunchtime. Can you arrange a room for me somewhere in Houlton?" "No problem." Rob is now holding up a piece of paper bearing a hastily scribbled dollar sign. "One more thing," I say into the receiver. "If this takes more than a day or two, the county is going to have to cover my fees. I've got to make a living." "Sure, sure," Dale replies. "Our budget got a nice increase this year." "I'm not planning on breaking the bank," I say, smiling. "Is this going to be sworn or non-sworn work?" "Sworn, I think. It'll look better on interview transcripts if you've been deputized, and if you have to do any asking around it'll give you a badge to flash." The answer doesn't surprise me. As I thought, he wants this to look like his department's work as much as possible. "Okay. If you can fax me copies of everything you've got on the case I'll go over it before I leave." "Thanks, Alex. I'll see you tomorrow." "Yeah. Bye." As I return the phone to its cradle Rob looks at me with his eyebrows raised and his arms folded. "Trouble in the wilds, huh?" he says. "They want me to go and talk to a guy they've got for a murder near my hometown. Sounds interesting." "I'm happy so long as they pay the fee. They use money up there, right? They're not going to pay you in moose droppings or something?" "Yeah, they've just about heard of the dollar." He grins. "Best pack a rifle for the bears." "The most dangerous thing I'm likely to meet is an irate potato farmer." "Just make sure you take your phone with you. It doesn't seem likely at the moment, but we might get busy all of a sudden." I spend the next few hours clearing up some small details on other cases and making out a bill for Mr. and Mrs. Ingram. I can't be certain how things may have changed beyond the main highways so I buy a road map of Maine and make sure I've got my various licenses: driver's, private investigator's, resident and nonresident weapons permits, for two different states in the latter case. Then I go for lunch. The fax machine finally stops whirring and disgorging paper just shy of three in the afternoon. I bundle Dale's reports together and leave the office for home, then some packing, reading, an early night and an early start. Unsure how long the trip will last, I settle on a couple of sweaters, three shirts, T-shirts and pairs of jeans, plus socks and underwear for a week. A small bag with an electric razor and toiletries. A camera. Two fresh packs of cigarettes and a couple of spare CDs for the journey. I'm a blues man myself: Roy Buchanan, J.B. Lenoir, Howlin' Wolf. My old but well-tended Colt M1911 with a couple of spare clips of .45 hollowpoint. A knife I took a couple of years ago from a punk kid here in the city. Mostly I use it for digging around in the dirt or, occasionally, letting myself into places I'm not supposed to be. There's a crowbar, some bolt-cutters, a torque wrench and a couple of wire-thin files in my car's toolbox for much the same reason. I don't often have call to use them, but on occasion they do come in handy. Packing complete, I settle back on my black felt sofa, Sonny Boy Williamson II on the stereo and a bottle of Mexican beer in hand. I start leafing through the files. WINTER'S END. Copyright (c) 2003 by John Rickards. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from Winter's End by John Rickards 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.