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The second installment in the extraordinary Cooper Devereaux mystery thriller series, which combines the atmosphere of James Lee Burke and Craig Johnson with the noir brilliance of Robert Crais
An arsonist is targeting schools in Birmingham, Alabama—with devastating effect. Detective Devereaux—a man you can’t quite trust and should never ignore—must put a stop to the elusive pyromaniac’s reign of terror before more damage is done. Or worse, before students’ lives are lost. But as Devereaux sifts through the ashes of the case, a grisly discovery at a burned-out school sends the investigation spiraling in a new, terrifying direction. The detective and his partner are dragged into a nightmare world by revelations of gruesome rituals, the disappearance of local citizens, and allegations against city officials of shocking crimes that stretch back decades.
With innocent lives on the line, progress is hampered by friction between the police department and the FBI, and interference from factions of the local underworld complicate matters further. Devereaux doesn’t make excuses for his willingness to work outside the lines, but just as he needs to be at the top of his game, he’s rocked by echoes from his troubled past that threaten to engulf his daughter and girlfriend—and fracture the life he’s only recently begun to rebuild.
Praise for False Friend
“The second installment starring [Detective Cooper] Devereaux is a suspenseful action-packed drama that is sure to please fans of the series and mystery/thriller lovers alike. As a stand-alone, it will inspire newcomers to seek out the first book.”—Library Journal
“An incendiary thriller . . . Cooper is solid—decent, flawed, and entertaining.”—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Andrew Grant’s RUN “An adrenaline-fueled thrill ride that will have your head spinning and your heart pounding.”—Joseph Finder
“High stakes, high tension, and nonstop action . . . Hang on and enjoy this smart, original, and fast-paced adventure.”—Hank Phillippi Ryan
“Relentless, twisty, and blistering fast, it’s a book you don’t dare start at bedtime.”—Sean Chercover
“A whizbang of a novel with just the right dose of smart-ass.”—Chelsea Cain
“Breathtakingly fast-paced.”—Harlan Coben
“A perfect thriller—smart, fast, and blazing with nonstop surprises.”—Robert Crais
Under the Cover
An excerpt from False Friend
The flames were already twenty feet tall.
They were a fierce orange color, twisting and writhing above the gash they’d torn in the building’s flat roof. Tyler Shaw thought they looked like the souls of sinners trying to escape the Hell that had somehow been unleashed inside. Clouds of dense, filthy smoke were spewing from a row of broken second-floor windows, staining the blue Alabama sky the kind of dirty black that hadn’t been seen in Birmingham since the ironworks closed down. In his house across the street, lurking behind the faded bedroom drapes, Shaw could smell it. His eyes began to water. The fumes were bitter and sharp, not sweet and welcoming like the smoke from the barbeque pits and campfires he’d missed so much while he was away. And he could hear the sirens. The place would soon be swarming with fire trucks.
And with police.
Why? The word bounced frantically around inside Shaw’s head. Why was this happening? And why now? Had he made a giant mistake, coming back? Was it all over for him? Was he finally finished?
Cooper Devereaux scanned the packed rows of seats all around him for the hundredth time, and what he saw only confirmed his conclusion: Despite the name of the play—and the alarming number of people who’d come armed with family-size boxes of Kleenex—he was the only one in the place who was truly misérable.
Devereaux had wanted to spend his Saturday afternoon at his cabin, working on its damaged roof. But Alexandra, his—what? girlfriend?—had other plans. She’d been desperate to see the show together, and was so delighted when another lawyer she’d done a favor for had bagged her tickets for the matinée that Devereaux hadn’t had it in him to disappoint her. And on balance, he figured that sacrificing one afternoon’s satisfying labor was a small price to pay to make her happy. He’d been separated from Alexandra for eight years, and Devereaux was ready to do—almost—anything to strengthen his newly-repaired relationship with her. And with Nicole, their seven-year-old daughter. He’d only recently discovered that she existed, and was still just getting to know the little girl. Devereaux glanced down at her, stretched out in the seat between him and Alexandra. She looked up and smiled, then went back to watching the play. Or pretending to. Devereaux could see that she was paying more attention to the banged-up doll she’d insisted on bringing than to the action on the stage. Smart kid, he thought.
Devereaux had mentioned his lack of enthusiasm for Alexandra’s play-going scheme to a couple of the other detectives in his squad the day before, but they’d told him not to worry. A trip to the Alabama Theatre was worth it just to see the inside of the building, they’d said. Devereaux didn’t agree. The contractors who’d handled the refurbishment certainly hadn’t skimped on the gold leaf or the extravagant palette of colors, but the result made Devereaux feel giddy. The red and green octagons decorating the underneath of the long sweeping arches reminded him of the suckers on an octopus’s tentacles, reaching around to grab him. And the broad illuminated dome set into the gilded ceiling made him feel like a flying saucer was hovering overhead, waiting to spirit him away. Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking . . .
Devereaux was aware that his attention was wandering. His head kept filling with images of the flawless monochrome interior of his apartment in the City Federal Building. It was only a couple of blocks away. Could he sneak out, head over there, grab a beer, listen to some real music, and be back before the final curtain? There was time. But no. He couldn’t take the chance. Alexandra would notice. She’d be upset, and that was the last thing he wanted. So he fixed a smile on his face, dragged his attention back to the stage, and realized he’d lost track of what was happening. This Valjean guy and his cronies wanted to go beyond some barricades? OK. But weren’t they the ones who’d built the barricades? Why pick that spot if they wanted to go past? Why not build the barricades farther away? And why stand around singing about their own lack of planning skills? What was the point in that?
Before he could torment himself any longer Devereaux felt his phone begin to vibrate. He discreetly checked the number and saw it was his boss, Lieutenant Hale. An opportunity to escape? Devereaux felt a flood of relief wash over him. He turned to mime 911 to Alexandra and felt a tiny part of that relief turn to guilt as she shot him daggers in return. Then he pushed the feelings away, slipped into the aisle, and hurried to the foyer to answer the call.
“Cooper? Apologies. I didn’t want to pull you out of the show.” Hale’s voice sounded distant and hollow, so Devereaux guessed she had him on speakerphone.
“Don’t worry about it.” Devereaux crossed to the ornate, circular, four-person French-style lounge chair below the chandelier in the center of the rectangular space. No one else was sitting on it, but Devereaux decided he’d prefer to stand, anyway.
“You’re not enjoying it?” Hale sounded surprised. “Actually, that can wait. We’ve got a situation. At a school, out on 31st Street, Southwest. Near Jefferson Avenue.”
“Right. You know it?”
“I went to it. For a while, anyway. It was my first high school.”
“You must be mixing it up with somewhere else. This one’s a middle school.”
“It’s the same place. They changed it after I left. What happened there?”
“A fire. A big one. Lots of damage, by the sound of it.”
“No reports of any casualties. Shouldn’t have been any kids around as it’s not a weekday, and there’s no on-site janitor or maintenance guys anymore.”
“Good. Want me to head over there?”
“No. No point. The uniforms are already canvassing the area, and no one will be able to get into the school itself for another couple of days, because it’s not safe. But listen. A battalion chief from Fire and Rescue just called. This isn’t confirmed yet—his science guys need more time to collect samples and run tests—but his gut feel is that the blaze was started deliberately.”
“Lightning striking twice.”
“What do you mean?” Papers rustled on Hale’s desk. “There’s no mention of previous fires in the report.”
“It was a long time ago.” Devereaux glared at an usher who’d appeared from an anteroom at the far end of the lobby, apparently ready to shush him. “November eleventh, 1961. The date was in the school crest. Some crazy student torched the place. Burned it to the ground. Maybe history’s repeating itself.”
“Maybe it is. But we’ll get to that later. For now, step one is to interview the witnesses. The battalion chief needs some very specific information, until the lab work comes back. He laid it out in an email, which I’ll forward to you. The uniforms have got the local residents covered, but we also have a passerby who called 911. I want you and Tommy to go talk to him. Right away, while his memory’s still fresh. And before he reads anything about it in the press. I’ll include his deets in the email.”
Devereaux crossed the shiny black-and-white-tiled floor, stepped outside, and paused beneath the illuminated canopy on Third Avenue as he felt the warm air engulf him. He imagined his old school in flames, and couldn’t help but smile. Not because he’d particularly disliked the place. But because he was struck by the irony. Today he was being sent to investigate the fire. Back when he was a student, he’d have been the first one the police would have blamed for it.
Labor Omnia Vincit, the school motto said. Labor overcomes all difficulties. Despite the creepy Nazi overtones, Devereaux had always found it to be true. Especially as it didn’t stipulate what kind of labor . . .
Squeezed onto a triangle of land to the west of the city, between Third Avenue North and Valley Creek, the Birmingham Tribune building had been dividing local opinion for nearly forty years. Some saw it as an iconic brutalist masterpiece, and lauded its intelligent, innovative design. They pointed to the way the front of the building was shaped like the prow of a ship, so that its protruding second floor could shelter the entrance and allow both the set-back higher floors to have their own outdoor balcony spaces. But the majority thought of it as a hideous monstrosity. They loathed its rough, textured concrete. Its sharp angles. Its parallel strips of featureless black windows. The bad feeling ran so high that its harshest critics likened it to a child’s drawing of an ocean liner, and said they wished they could push it into the nearby water and let it sink.
Diane McKinzie didn’t have an opinion on the building’s appearance, one way or the other. She was too used to the place. It had been around her whole life—opening the year she was born—and her father had started taking her there before she could walk. She’d visited constantly throughout her childhood, and when she got a job there right out of college it felt like she was coming home.
Please let it be a quiet day! Diane thought as she reversed her Mini into the last shaded spot in the parking lot. She had good news, from a personal point of view, and couldn’t wait to get home and share it with her son, Daniel. She’d just heard from an old friend. An editor in New York. His company was publishing a new biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the legendary physicist who’d led the Manhattan Project in World War II. The destroyer of worlds, as he’d described himself. The book sounded fabulous, casting new light on the difficulties the young Robert experienced in getting along with other students, and the trouble he landed himself in politically, later in life. There was no doubt about it, Oppenheimer was a fascinating guy. He was one of Daniel’s heroes. And Diane’s friend was going to send him an advance copy of the book—the kind normally reserved for reviewers to use. That meant Daniel would get it months before it hit the shelves. He could potentially be the first person in the world, outside the publishing industry, to read it. He’d be delighted! And Diane loved to see him happy. He was so smart, and he worked so hard, despite not being in the best situation at school. He deserved a little special treatment from time to time.
At first Diane had thought about telling Daniel about the book the next day, when they were planning to visit the McWane Science Center in downtown Birmingham together. But she soon rejected that idea. She knew herself too well. She’d never be able to keep it a secret that long. No. She’d tell him that night, over his favorite dinner . . .
Diane was still looking forward to the evening when she got back to her desk. She had to write up some notes from the interview she’d just done, to account for her time. She couldn’t be too careful these days. The era when journalists could be out of the office for hours—days!—at a time without anyone turning a hair was long gone. She also had to confirm some technical details with the one remaining staff photographer for a job she was planning for the following week. But mostly she had to make sure that all the important people saw she was there, working hard. And then, if she was lucky, she could get on the road early for a change.
Andrew Grant is the author of RUN, False Positive, False Friend, and False Witness. He was born in Birmingham, England. He attended the University of Sheffield, where he studied English literature and drama. He ran a small independent theater company, and subsequently worked in the telecommunications industry for fifteen years. Grant and his wife, the novelist Tasha Alexander, divide their time between Chicago and the United Kingdom.