In the lonely woods around Grizzly Falls, Montana, the first body is discovered, stripped naked and tied to a tree. Alvarez and Pescoli have been hoping for a career-making case, but this is a nightmare. The killer stages car accidents on icy, isolated roads and “rescues” his victims. He toys with them, heals them, earns their trust . . . before subjecting them to a slow, agonizing death.
When Jillian Rivers opens her eyes, she’s trapped in a mangled car. Then a stranger, claiming to be a trail guide, pries her free. Though she’s grateful, something about him sets Jillian on edge. And if she knew what was lying in wait for her, she’d be truly terrified . . .
Even with the FBI involved, Selena and Regan have nothing to go on but a series of cryptic notes, and the unsettling knowledge that there is much worse to come. Piece by piece, the killer’s brutal plan is taking shape. But his final move will be the most shocking—and personal—of all . . .
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Left to Die
By Susan Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2008 Susan Lisa Jackson
All rights reserved.
"Goddamn, son of a bitch."
Ivor Hicks usually didn't mind the cold, but he didn't like the thought that he was being forced to hike in this section of the mountains after the recent blizzard. For the love of God, there could be an avalanche if he coughed too hard, and he was liable to 'cause his lungs felt heavy, as if he might be coming down with something.
Probably from the damned aliens, he decided, though he quickly rid himself of the thought. Criminy, no one wanted to believe that he'd been abducted in the late seventies, used for an experiment that involved his lungs, blood and testicles. The blasted ETs had left his drained and exhausted body in a snow-bank two miles from his mountain home. When he'd come out of the drug-induced coma, he'd found himself half frozen, lying in his jockey shorts, an empty bottle of rye whiskey on the other side of a hollowed-out log that was home to a porcupine and beetles. But not one of them damned law enforcement boys wanted to listen to him.
At the time, the deputy he'd complained to, a smartass kid of about thirty, hadn't even bothered to swallow his smile of disbelief. He just took a quick statement, then hauled Ivor to the local clinic for treatment of frostbite and exposure. Doc Norwood hadn't been so outwardly disbelieving, but when he'd sent Ivor to the hospital in Missoula he'd suggested psychiatric testing.
They'd all just played into the aliens' hands. Crytor, the leader of the pod, who had teleported him into their mother ship, was probably still laughing at the earthlings' simpleton explanation of alcohol, dehydration and hallucinations that the doctors were sure had been the cause of his "confusion."
Well, they were just dumb asses all around.
Using a walking stick, Ivor trudged up Cross Creek Pass, his hiking boots crunching in the snow, the sky as wide and blue as an ocean, not that he'd ever really seen one, but he'd seen himself Flathead Lake, which was one big-ass lake. Must be the same, only much, much larger, if those televised fishing excursions on the Fish and Game Channel could be believed.
Breathing heavily, he trudged up the trail, winding through an outcropping of snow-dusted boulders and ancient hemlocks with branches that appeared to scrape the sky. He stopped to catch his breath, watching it fog and cursing the aliens who had forced him up the mountain trail when his arthritis was acting up. The pain now was exacerbated, he was certain, by the experiments they'd done on him and the invisible chip they'd slipped into his body.
"I'm goin', I'm goin'," he said when he felt that little pinch at his temple, the prod they used to urge him on, the one that had pushed him out of bed before the sun climbed over the mountain crest. Hell, he hadn't even had a swallow of coffee, much less a sip of Jim Beam. Crytor, damn his orange reptilian hide, was a more intense taskmaster than Lila had been, God rest her soul. He made the sign of the cross over his chest in memory of his dead wife, though he was not a Catholic, never had been and had no intention of becoming one. It just seemed like the right, reverent thing to do.
Even Crytor didn't seem to mind.
Through a stand of fir he noticed elk tracks and dung in the snow and wished he'd brought his rifle, though it wasn't hunting season. Who would ever find out?
Well, besides Crytor.
Rounding a bend in the path, he caught a glimpse of the valley below.
And he stopped short, nearly slipping.
His seventy-six-year-old heart almost quit on him as his gaze, as good as it ever was, focused on a solitary pine tree and the naked woman lashed to the trunk.
"Holy Mother Mary," he whispered and headed faster down the hillside, his walking stick digging deep through the snow to the frozen ground below as he hurried downward.
No wonder the aliens had wanted him to see this.
They'd probably abducted her, did what they wanted and left her here in this frigid, unpopulated valley. That's what they did, you know.
He wished he had a cell phone, though he thought he'd heard that the damned things didn't work up here. Too remote. No towers. He slid and caught himself, moving quickly along the familiar trail. She was probably still alive. Just stunned into submission. He could wrap her in his jacket, and hike back and get help.
Digging his stick deep and fast into the snow, he descended rapidly, hurrying down the switchbacks to the valley floor, where a snow owl hooted softly in an otherwise eerily quiet canyon.
"Hey!" he cried, half-running, nearly out of breath. "Hey!"
But before he reached the woman strapped to the tree, he stopped short and froze.
This was no return of a body from an alien ship.
This was the work of the very devil.
The hairs on the back of his wrinkled neck lifted.
This woman, an Asian woman, was as dead as dead can be. Her skin was blue, snow dusting her dark, shiny hair, her eyes staring without life. Blood lay on her skin, dark and frozen. A gag covered her lips. The bindings strapping her to the tree had cut deep bruises and welts into her arms and chest and waist. Not quite hog-tied. But close enough.
Somewhere a tree branch groaned with the weight of snow and Ivor felt as if unseen eyes might be watching.
He'd never felt more fear in his life.
Not even as Crytor's prisoner.
Again, wishing he had his hunting rifle, he stepped backward slowly, easing out the way he'd come, until, at the edge of the mountain trail, he turned and started running as fast as his legs dared carry him.
Who or whatever had done this to the woman was the purest and deadliest form of evil.
And it lingered.
God in heaven, it was still here.
Detective Selena Alvarez dropped into the chair at her desk. It wasn't yet seven, but she had piles of paperwork to sift through, and the unsolved case of the two dead women found nearly a month apart, linked by the way their bodies had been left in the snow, was uppermost in her mind.
The images of those bodies — naked, tied to trees, gagged and left in the snow to die — chilled her to her bones. For years any dead bodies discovered in and around Pinewood County were few and far between, usually the result of hunting, fishing, skiing or hiking accidents. One time a jogger was mauled nearly to death by a cougar, and there had always been the domestic disputes gone bad, fueled by alcohol or drugs, a firearm or other weapon in handy reach. But murder had never been common in this part of the country. Multiple murders rarer still. A serial killer in this neck of the woods? Unheard of.
But one was here.
She had only to look on her computer screen and see the dead bodies of Theresa Charleton and Nina Salvadore, two women with little in common, to know that a psychopath was either nearby or had passed through.
She clicked her mouse and the dead body of the first victim, Theresa Charleton, came into view on her monitor. A few more clicks and she split the screen with several images: the woman's driver's license picture, procured from the Idaho DMV; a photo of the wrecked green Ford Eclipse, labeled Crime Scene One; and another shot of a lonely hemlock tree in a snowy valley with the woman lashed to the trunk, tagged as Crime Scene Two. The final image was of the note left nailed above the woman's head: her initials, T C, in block letters, written below a star that had been not only drawn on the white paper but also carved into the bole of the tree about five inches above her head. The lab had found traces of blood in the carving, blood belonging to the victim.
Alvarez's jaw tightened as she stared at what had been left of the schoolteacher from Boise. She'd had no known enemies. Married for two years, no children, the husband devastated. He'd claimed she'd been visiting her parents in Whitefish and his story had checked out. The victim's parents and brother were beside themselves with grief and anger. Her brother had insisted the police "find the monster who did this!"
"We're working on it," Alvarez said to herself as she opened a file and saw a copy of the note.
The star, similar to the one cut into the tree over the victim's head, had been drawn high over the letters:
Why? Alvarez wondered. What did it mean to the killer? The sheriff's department had checked on the people who had seen her last and come up with nothing so far. They'd thought the incident was a single murder — until the next victim had been found in an identical situation.
Again Alvarez clicked her mouse and another image, so similar to the first that it turned her blood to ice, flickered onto the screen. A naked woman with long dark hair was bound to the trunk of a fir tree. Different location, but eerily similar.
Victim number two was Nina Salvadore, a single mother and computer programmer from Redding, California. She, too, had been found tied to a tree in a tiny valley within the wilds of the Bitterroots. Her body had been two miles from her vehicle, a Ford Focus wrecked into a nearly unidentifiable crush of red paint, metal and plastic, found several weeks earlier.
The star cut into the tree over Salvadore's body was located in a slightly different position in relation to her body, and the note that had been left at the scene was slightly different as well. This time, though the star had been drawn on a standard-size piece of printer paper, new letters had been written on it. It appeared that both sets of the victims' initials had been interwoven:
T SC N
Was the killer playing with them? Trying to communicate? If he wanted credit for both killings, why not write T C N S, the order of the women's first and last names? Why mix the initials up?
Alvarez narrowed her eyes. She was a computer wizard and had run several programs trying to find out if the four letters meant anything. So far, she'd come up dry.
"Bastard," she muttered, trying to imagine what kind of monster would do something so brutal and cruel as to leave a woman to freeze in the wilds of Montana in the winter.
Interviews with those closest to Nina Salvadore had provided no additional clues. She'd been on her way back to California, though she'd planned to meet up with friends in Oregon first, and had driven from Helena, Montana, where she'd been visiting her sister. The missing persons report had been filed in Oregon first, when she hadn't arrived in the small town of Seaside and had been missing for twenty-four hours. In Helena, Nina's sister had filed a similar report that same day.
Despite combing the crime scenes, bodies and wrecked cars, and working with police in the hometowns where the women had lived, the department had no suspects.
Or victims who had been targeted and stalked?
Alvarez bit her lip and found no answers.
After staring at the screen for a few minutes, she gave up, left her cubicle and made her way down a long hallway. She veered to the left and through a doorway to the lunchroom, a windowless area complete with small kitchen and a few scattered tables.
A glass pot of congealing coffee sat on a warmer. Left over from the night shift. Selena dumped the dark liquid and the pre-measured packet of grounds and started over, rinsing the pot, filling the reservoir with water and finding a fresh package of dark roast in a drawer.
All the while the coffee machine sputtered, dripped and brewed, she considered the bizarre killings. The lab had found traces of bark in both victims' hair. The wood splinters matched those of the trees to which they had been lashed. The bruises and contusions on their bodies had been consistent with being tethered to the trees, and they each had a cut or two from a knife, nothing deep, just a quick little slice, or prick, as if whoever had been urging them to their ultimate place of death had prodded them along.
But other wounds had begun to heal, according to the autopsies. Injuries consistent with what had been sustained in their car wrecks had begun to heal: broken metacarpals, cracked ribs and a fractured radius in Theresa Charleton's case; a broken clavicle and dislocated knee for Nina Salvadore. Each woman's bones appeared to have been set, her abrasions tended to. Salvadore even appeared to have had recent stitches on her right cheek and an area of scalp where some hair had been shaved away.
Where had he kept them?
Why bring them somewhat back to health only to leave their naked bodies out in the weather? Why heal them only to let them die?
According to the ME, neither woman had been sexually molested.
The case was odd. Nerve-wracking. And Alvarez had spent dozens of hours of overtime trying to get into the killer's head. To no avail.
The FBI was being consulted. Field agents from Salt Lake City had come and left again.
On the kitchen counter the coffee machine gurgled and sputtered its last drops just about the same time Joelle Fisher, secretary and receptionist for the department, breezed in.
"Oh, you already made the coffee. That's my job, you know," she said with one of her ever-present smiles. Nearing sixty, Joelle looked ten years younger except for the fact that she insisted upon wearing her platinum hair in some kind of teased hairdo reminiscent of the fifties screen sirens Alvarez remembered from watching old movies with her mother.
"Yeah, I know."
Joelle's pretty face squinched up as she quickly picked up some old napkins and stir sticks left on one of the tables, then wiped the surface. "You'll get me in trouble with the sheriff."
Pouring herself a cup, Selena didn't think Dan Grayson gave a flying fig about who made the coffee, but she kept her views to herself. Joelle's smug self-satisfaction about all things domestic was no big deal. If she considered the kitchen her little kingdom, so be it.
"Hey!" Cort Brewster, the under sheriff, strode in with a newspaper tucked under his arm.
"How's it going?" Alvarez asked, offering him just a hint of a smile. Brewster was a good guy, happily married, the father of four, but there was something about him that put her on edge a bit. A glint in his eye, maybe, or the way his smile didn't always meet his gaze. Or maybe she was being supersensitive. Brewster had never done anything untoward to her, or to anyone else in the department as far as she knew.
"If the coffee's not to your liking, I'm sorry," Joelle said, flinging up her hands in resignation. "It was, er, already brewing when I got here." Her perfect little pink-tinged lips puckered a bit and her eyebrows shot up as if she were a schoolmarm pointing out that little Timmy had been playing with himself under the table.
"My fault if the coffee tastes like sewer sludge," Alvarez admitted. "I made it."
Brewster laughed as he found a ceramic mug in the cupboard and poured himself a tall cup.
Joelle, miffed, strutted out of the kitchen, her high heels tapping indignantly down the hallway.
"Looks like you stepped on someone's toes this morning," Brewster observed.
"It's every morning." Selena poured herself a cup. "Working here should be considered hazardous duty."
"Meeeow," Brewster murmured into his cup.
"Comes with the territory." She shrugged and headed to her desk. Her shift wasn't due to start for another forty-five minutes, but a few of the night crew were trading stories and packing up.
Her phone rang and she answered it with a grunt of acknowledgment as she sat down.
"Alvarez? This is Peggy Florence in dispatch. I've got a call I think you should hear."
From the tone of the dispatcher's voice, Selena guessed what was coming and braced herself.
"Came in two minutes ago. From Ivor Hicks. If he can be believed, we've got ourselves another one."
"... and it's another sub-zero-degree day in this part of Montana, blizzard conditions on the roads and another storm rolling in this afternoon." The radio announcer sounded way too chipper considering the news he was delivering. "Coming up after this, we've got an extensive road report and school-closure list, so stay with us at KKAR at ninety-seven point six on your FM dial."
He segued into the first notes of "Winter Wonderland."
Regan Pescoli buried her face into her pillow and groaned at the thought of rousing. Bing Crosby crooning about the joys of snow wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear, not this morning. Her head was thundering, her mouth tasted like garbage and the last thing she needed was to roll out of a nice warm bed and head to the sheriff's department office where all hell was surely breaking loose with this last storm.
Besides, it was still only November. There was still a lotta time before Christmas.
She slapped at the damned radio without opening her eyes, missed and realized belatedly that she wasn't in her own bed. Holy crap! Lifting an eyelid, she focused on her surroundings only to recognize the scarred, shabby furniture of room seven at the North Shore, a small, local motel where she stayed overnight with her sometime lover. Never mind that the low-slung concrete-block motel was situated at the south end of town, near the county line, and there was no shore, no river, no lake and certainly no ocean for miles.
Excerpted from Left to Die by Susan Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2008 Susan Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
From the start the writing was awful, details didn't add up, and copious amounts of extraneous crap got on my nerves. Everything has to be 'damned' or 'damned to hell' or 'G_ddamned'...so very over done and unnecessary. Explanatory background details are in the weirdest of places, the whole thing is choppy and everything feels so forced to be super dramatic. Plain awful.
I am not a die hard Lisa Jackson fan, but do read her books on occasion. When I started the first chapter, I knew that in order to really get into the "mood," that it required an uninterrupted hour. Once I got into the book, it caught my attention. Unfortunately, having to kill all those women to provide enough letters for the note almost lost my attention. But I hung in there and was rewarded with a nice twist. I do agree with other reviewers that had I known there is a second book, I would have waited until I had bought the second book before reading them together. Not bad, not great.
Disappointed that Ms. Jackson saw fit to litter her story with vulgarities. Quite a shame, as this could have been an exciting read. I deleted all three in the series (with no refund, by the way) after just a chapter of the first. Wish B & N had some kind of warning for sexually explicit or vulgar language.
The story was okay, but I wouldn't call is romantic suspense more just plan suspense. There wasn't much to make me care about any of the characters, and I didn't like that the antagonist(s) were in the first person... if felt disjointed. The one bad guy came out of nowhere, and it almost seemed unfair that that the bad guy wasn't even hinted at. I got all 3 books in the series, but can't make myself care enough to finish the series. Maybe I'll some back to it, but it took me about 2 1/2 weeks to read this book, I just couldn't get into it. I usually read a book or two a week. This was my first Lisa Jackson book.
I would not protest, because I have read and enjoyed all of Lisa Jackson books. I am a great fan of hers. Even felt empathy through her divorce, etc. But, this left me somewhat disgruntled. I love series, but usually we are warned and I buy all and read in that order. They usually are only a month or so apart...BUT to have to wait a year to see what happens is a little too long. Will I buy it?, yes, but I hope I still remember the plot from this one. What happened, Lisa to string us along this way? Did you sell out?
I enjoyed Left to Die thoroughly. Lisa Jackson was a new author I just "tried" and I am very glad I did. Her story was well written, and the character development outstanding. I eagerly read and read and eagerly anticipated the next event. Once one adventure is finally solved at the end of LEFT TO DIE, she continues with the same characters and part of the plot in CHOSEN TO DIE, which I am reading now. Very good. I highly recommend it.
This was the worst book I ever read. I can not believe that I wasted my time and actually finished this book. It was bad!!!!!
The first book I read by Lisa Jackson was "Fatal Burn" and I have not stopped since then. I love all of her books. They are suspenseful and I haven't read one that I haven't liked yet. I am currently reading "Malice", and I would recommend any of her books. Some of her books are part of a series like this one and I can't wait for "Chosen to Die" to come out in August. This was a GREAT book. If you like murder, and mystery filled with suspense then I would recommend this book and all of her books for you to read.
The characters in this book are typical L. Jackson quality. Excellent. I was enjoying this book up until it became obvious that there were not enough pages left to give a credible ending. I was right, only 50% of the story had an ending. Apparently I will have to wait a year to find out what happened to the other 50% of the characters. I have read other books which were on-going and involved the same characters. But I have never been left at a dead end before and then been told that the story would continue next year (12 months later). Will I have to read this book again to review the storyline or will half of the new book be spent re-telling the first book. This will involve a lot of characters. I have always bought any Lisa Jackson book as soon as it was released. Never again.
I have to admit, I like these novels. Though not quite James Patterson, Lisa has her own writing style that does compare, but is a signature all her own. She has created a few series novels, and this is one of the better ones. I like the characters, reminds me of Rizzole and Isles, except they still haven't quite achieved the close friendship that R & I have. But they're working on it. There were only 3 in this series, but I hoping she writes some more. Her other Series, the ones set in New Orleans are great as well.
Excellent book. Couldn't put it down. However, had I known that I would have to wait a full 12 months for the ending of the story, I would have waited to buy both books at once. Am I going to remember everything from the first book or am I going to have to re-read it to keep things straight? Frustrating
This book was awesome, however I just finished it and was so angry to see we have to wait another year for the CHOSEN TO DIE :'
This book was a CROCK. It was slow moving. It features two detectives. One you learn too much about, the other two little. It also has two plot lines. One about a serial killer, and one that you are supposed to think was the work of the serial killer, but in reality was unrelated. The unrelated case was distracting. I really hated that after slogging thru this book I was left hanging. No resolution, no serial killer. What was the point? Definitely NOT buying second book. After that slog, I don't care who the killer is. I don't care who's sleeping with whom.
I enjoyed this book and was really engrossed until the supposed ending. I didn't know that nothing would be revealed and the killer would remain unknown. You should put a warning that a second book must be purchased in order to finish the story. I bought the second book as I invested my time in this book and was not aware it would be a cliffhanger ending. I have been left with a bitter taste and feel cheated by the author. If this next book ends the same way, I will be upset and will never buy her books again. It would have been 5 stars, but the lack of ending changed it to 3 stars. What a ploy to sell books -- what a way to make a living. I feel like I deserve a refund and an apology!
Of course...harriet klausner has to come along and RUIN the book with her blamed cliff note reveal. Will you DO something with this blamed poster bn!!!!! She is a hazard! She takes it upon herself to personally reveal and destroy every book she can. She must be banned from posting. How many book are you going to let her ruin? Ban her already!!!!!!!!
I found the story-line intriguing & the narrative well-written, but I felt somewhat letdown when the book ended w/no resolution to the story-line. Luckily, I'd already bought & intended to read the whole series. So I moved on, hoping that #2 in the series would bring the resolution & my "letdown" wouldn't become irritation.
Great book. Lisa Jackson is one of my favorite aurhors. Can't wait for the next book.
This was a great thriller to start off the series! I just started #2 in the series since I liked #1 so much!
I enjoyed Left to Die. I really like Lisa Jackson books anyway, and she did not disappoint. The chaaracters and story are realistic enouigh that you can get cought up in the story and the characters lives. The plot is very good, keeps you interested in finding out who, what, where and why. I think even younger (pre-teen on up) would enjoy this series, its not overly gory, sexy, racy or bad language. I like Lisa Jackson's books. I recommend them as good reads.
Did not want to put it down!
I hope Lisa Jackson continues the series.
I loved this book from the beginning to the end and can't wait to read the second book in the series!
Could not put the book down at times.
It was a good read.....I`ll be reading the next one !!
The author has a refined way to portray her characters and the intertwined plots that she carries from her previous books of the same series. Just when the storyline seems to be getting overly recognizable and transparent, her text appears under an element of surprise - something I look forward to seeing in her books at this point.