James Patterson returns with a standalone thriller about an intrepid FBI researcher struggling to piece together a string of insidious crimes that only she sees are deviously connected. Here's an excerpt.
I spend the morning like I’ve spent every morning the last several months, sitting in my office (also known as my mother’s second bedroom), combing through research and data. Because I’m on suspension, I don’t have access to NIBRS—the National Incident-Based Reporting System. But NIBRS is useless to me, anyway; it only collects information on fires classified as arson. If they’re deemed accidental, or even “suspicious” in origin, they never make it to NIBRS. And my guy is making the fires look accidental.
Which means he’s staying totally off the radar. The locals aren’t reporting these fires to the Feds, and they aren’t talking to each other.
Which leaves me with the utterly unscientific method of setting up alerts on sites like Google and YouTube, then monitoring websites and message boards devoted to fire-fighting and arson, and getting breaking-news reports from local news websites. There are fires involving the loss of human life every day in this country, intentional or accidental, and whether they are reported to federal law enforcement or not, they at least make the local news in that area. So I’m inundated on a daily basis with news of fires, 99 percent of which is irrelevant, but all of which I have to review to make sure one of them isn’t the needle in the haystack.
It’s late afternoon now. I’ve spent hours huddled over this laptop and chasing down leads. I made one inquiry about the fire in Lisle, Illinois, but the cop there hasn’t called me back yet.
My smartphone buzzes. Speak of the devil. I assume it’s the cop, but after a day of solitary confinement, I’d happily chat up a telemarketer selling me life insurance.
I set my cell to speakerphone and call out a hello.
“Ms. Dockery, it’s Lieutenant Adam Ressler, Lisle PD.”
“Yes, Lieutenant. Thanks for the return call.”
“Ms. Dockery, could you clarify for me your status? Are you with the FBI?”
This is my problem. I’m not. It would be bad enough that I’m a research analyst, not a special agent—some locals will only talk to agents—but I’m not even a research analyst right now. When they look up my authorization code, they always find mine, so they know I am who I say I am, but the problem is that there’s no clearance level next to that code.
“I’m on temporary leave with the Bureau,” I answer, “working on a special assignment.”
A lawyer would call that a technically accurate statement. It just so happens that the FBI has nothing to do with this “special assignment,” which in fact I have “assigned” to myself.
Basically, I’m a girl on suspension who is doing something completely on her own. But I made it sound a little better than that without lying.
Usually this works—to a point. I manage to fall on the spectrum somewhere between a random citizen or nosy reporter and an actual law enforcement officer. So I get answers to generally harmless questions, minimally sufficient for my purposes but not enough to give me the full picture I would prefer.
“Well, okay, why don’t we see what you need,” he says, meaning he’ll answer some questions and not others. “You were calling about Joelle Swanson?”
“That’s right, Lieutenant. The fire from three nights ago.”
This is all I know so far: Joelle Swanson, age twenty-three, resided at a new townhouse at 2141 Carthage Court in Lisle, Illinois, a suburb roughly twenty-five miles outside Chicago.
She lived alone. She was a recent graduate of Benedictine University and was working in their admissions office. She was single, no kids, not even a boyfriend. She died in the fire overnight, in the early hours of August twenty-second. No sign of foul play, according to the local fire chief.
“What was the cause?” I ask the lieutenant.
“A burning candle,” he says. “Looks like it was on a desk and fell over onto the carpet. Between the carpet and some newspapers lying around and the polyurethane mattress, the whole bedroom went up real fast. The victim was burnt to toast right there on the bed.”
I remain quiet, hoping he’ll keep going.
“Chief said there was no evidence of an accelerant used.
He said it looks like—well, he said, ‘One of those stupid things people do,’ falling asleep with a lit candle.”
And with some stray newspapers conveniently lying around. “You’re sure the fire originated in the bedroom?”
“Yeah, fire chief said no question. No question of cause or origin.”
“What about the candle?” I ask.
“What about it?”
“Any theory as to how it fell over?”
He doesn’t answer. It probably seems like a minor point to him, but really, how likely is it that a candle sitting on a desk would just fall over? It was indoors, after all. It’s not like a harsh wind blew it over.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” says the lieutenant, “why does the FBI care about this?”
“Wish I could answer that, Lieutenant. You know how it goes.”
“Well . . . okay, then.”
“Will there be an autopsy?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“Well, for one thing, I’m not sure there’s a body left to autopsy.
And the better question is why? The chief says there’s no sign of foul play. We don’t know of any reason anyone would want to hurt her, and we don’t have any evidence that anyone did hurt her.”
“That’s why you perform an autopsy, Lieutenant. To find the evidence.”
There is a pause in the action. Over the speakerphone it is dead silence, as if he’s hung up. Maybe he did. Cops don’t like being told their business by anyone, but especially not by the Feebs. “I know why you perform an autopsy, Ms. Dockery, but you don’t autopsy every death. There’s nothing at all suspicious about this, according to the experts—”
“You guys have an arson task force out there, don’t you?” I ask. “Can you refer it to the task force?”
“We have a countywide arson task force, yes, ma’am, but we don’t refer every fire to the task force or they’d never have time to work on the real arsons. Now, do you have some information to give me about Joelle Swanson that would make us believe that foul play was involved?”
“I don’t know the first thing about Joelle Swanson,” I concede.
“Well, then, I think we’re done, ma’am. I’m busy.”
“I know you are, Lieutenant, and I sure do appreciate your time. Can I ask for one more favor?”
An audible sigh, loud enough to make sure I hear it.
“The bedroom,” I say. “What can you tell me about the layout of her bedroom?”
From INVISIBLE by James Patterson. Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson. Used by permission of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group.