It meant battle; it meant risk. For Boldt, a vest was a symbol of youth. It had been well over a year since he had worn one. Ironically, as he approached the hangar's north door at a light run behind his own four heavily armored ERT personnel, he caught himself worrying about his hands, not his life. He didn't want to smash up his piano hands in some close quarters skirmish. . . . Boldt plays jazz piano one night a week in a local bar, and despite his concern for his hands, he takes every opportunity he can to get away from his desk and into the streets. But money pressures, caused by his wife's recent illness, also make him think about the possibility of a better-paying job in the private sector.
Meanwhile, some extremely ruthless people are murdering illegal Chinese immigrant women and leaving their bodies buried in newly dug graves. An ambitious local TV journalist named Stevie McNeal and the young Chinese woman she thinks of as her "Little Sister" risk their lives to investigate the killings, while Boldt and his team round up a most unusual array of suspects.
This combination of hard-edged realism and softer sentiment has become Pearson's trademark, and once again it works smoothly. --Dick Adler
About the Author
Hometown:St. Louis, Missouri
Date of Birth:March 13, 1953
Place of Birth:Glen Cove, New York
Education:Kansas University, B.A., Brown University
Read an Excerpt
It came off the northern Pacific as if driven by a witch's broom: the remnants of typhoon Mary that had killed 117 in Japan, left six thousand homeless in Siberia and flooded the western Aleutians for the first time in sixty-two years. In the ocean's open waters it drove seas to thirty feet with its eighty-five mile-per-hour winds, dumping three inches of rain an hour and barreling toward Victoria Island, the San Juan Islands, and the largest estuary in North America, known on charts as Puget Sound. It headed for the city of Seattle as if it had picked its course off a map and caused the biggest rush on plywood and chipboard that King County had ever seen.
In the partially protected waters west of Elliott Bay, one nautical mile beyond the established shipping lanes that fed Seattle's East Waterway dock lands, the pitch black night was punctured by the harsh illumination of shipboard spotlights that in clear weather might have reached a half mile or more, but failed to stretch even a hundred yards in the dismal deluge that had once been Mary. The freighter, Visage, a container ship, rose and sank in fifteen-foot swells, rain drumming decks stacked forty feet high with freight cars. The Asian crew followed the orders of the boatswain who commanded a battery-operated megaphone from an upper deck, instructing them to make-ready.
The huge ship pitched and yawed and rolled port to starboard, threatening to dump its top-heavy cargo. The crew had been captured inside Mary's wrath for the last three hundred nautical miles, three impossibly long days and nights, rarely able to sleep, some unable to eat, at work all hours attempting to keep the hundreds of containers on deck secure. Early on in the blow a container had broken loose, sliding across the steel deck like a seven ton brick and crushing the leg of an unsuspecting crewman to where the ship's medic could find no bones to set, only soft flesh where the shin and knee had once been. Three of the crew had tied themselves to the port rail where they vomited green bile with each and every rise and fall. Only four crewmen were available for the transfer that was to come.
The neighboring tug and barge, seventy feet and closing off Visage's starboard bow, were marked by dim red and green running lights, a single white spot off the tug's bow, and a pair of bright Halogens off the tower of the telescoping yellow crane chained down to the center of the barge. The tug and barge disappeared into a trough, rising and reappearing a moment later, only to sink once again into the foam, the crane as ominous and unnatural as an oil platform. The storm prevented any hope of docking the barge to the freighter, but both captains had enough motivation in their wallets to attempt the transfer nonetheless. Like two ends of a seesaw, the vessels rose and fell alternately, the crane's tower pointing like a broken finger into the tar black clouds. Radio communication was forbidden. Signal lights flashed, the only contact between the two captains.
Finally, in a dangerous and daring dance, the two vessels drew close enough for the crane's slip harness to be snagged by the freighter's crew on an upward pendulum swing. Briefly, the barge and container ship were connected by this dangling steel cable, but it broke loose of their hold, the barge lost to another swell. It was twenty minutes before the crane's steel cable was finally captured for a second time.
The vessels bobbed alongside one another, the slack in the crane's cable going dangerously tight with each alternating swell. The exhausted deckhands of the Visage worked furiously to be rid of this container, to a member wondering if it was worth the bonus pay they had been promised.
When the moment of exchange arrived, the crane made tight the cable and the deckhands cut loose the container's binding chains while lines secured to winches on both vessels attempted to steady the dangling container, for if it swung too violently it was likely to capsize the barge. As the first of these four lines snapped, the container, dangling precipitously over the void of open foam between barge and ship shifted awkwardly, suddenly at a precipitous and treacherous angle. Above the deafening whistle of wind and the lion's roar of the sea, came the muted but unmistakable cry of human voices from within this container.
A crewman crossed himself and looked toward heaven.
A second line snapped. A third.
The container swung and slipped out of the harness, splashing into the water. It submerged and then bobbed back up like a whale surfacing.
The captain of the Visage barked his orders. The mighty twin screws spun to life, the gigantic ship lumbering to port and away from the barge and crane in an effort to keep the container from being crushed between the vessels.
The spotlights on the freighter were ordered extinguished as the ship was consumed by the storm, lumbering back toward the shipping lane where it belonged.
Behind it, in its wake, the abandoned container, singing of human screams and cries of terror, rode the mounting swells into darkness, lost to the wash of the waves and the whim of the wind.
Copyright © 1999 by Ridley Pearson
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
One hell of a writer. He grabs, he twists, he tightens the screws.
On Wednesday, July 14th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Ridley Pearson to discuss THE FIRST VICTIM.
Moderator: Welcome, Ridley Pearson! We're happy you could join us online to discuss THE FIRST VICTIM. I have it on good authority that you are in Seattle this evening. How does it feel to be in Lou Boldt's territory?
Ridley Pearson: It's always wonderful to be in Seattle. It's just as mysterious as I write about. Yesterday it was pure summer here; today it feels like fall. Leave it to Seattle!
Thomas Marken from Athens, GA: Thanks for being online tonight, Ridley. I loved THE PIED PIPER and your previous Lou Boldt novels, but have yet to read THE FIRST VICTIM. Can you talk a little bit about what you have Boldt caught up in in your new one?
Ridley Pearson: Sure! Police discover a container apparently from a container ship, floating in Puget Sound, human cries from within. When the Coast Guard docks and opens the container, 12 women are inside, all Chinese illegals, 3 of whom have died from the horrid conditions inside the container. The race is on then, not only to stop the smuggling of illegals, but to apprehend those responsible for the 3 deaths.
Jay from East Northport, NY: What inspired this book? Any particular news story or headline?
Ridley Pearson: Yes, one right near your home. Several years ago a ship ran aground in Long Island Sound and was discovered to be containing 300 Chinese illegals. All of whom had paid $15,000 to $40,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. Another ship foundered off the New Jersey coast with 200 Chinese illegals aboard. Further research showed that the illegals are often subject to slavelike conditions upon their arrival. The evidence goes on and on, but this is something that is happening every day and I wanted to get it into a book.
Richard Anderson from Binghamton, NY: Your books are wonderful! Thank you for bringing the inhuman treatment of these Chinese individuals to the attention of the public. I am saddened to think that in 1999 this type of injustice is still happening. What measures is the government taking to address this?
Ridley Pearson: The INS reformed legislation in 1996 attempting to address the holding period before deportation for illegals. The problem is intensely complex, and arguments can be made strongly from both sides, but the fact is, it is happening. Since the completion of THE FIRST VICTIM, a container in Long Beach, California, was discovered to be holding 11 Chinese illegals, and another, right where the book is set, in Tacoma, Seattle, was found with 19 Chinese illegals inside.
Fatima from New Haven, CT: I liked THE FIRST VICTIM. Do the police and the media ever work together to solve cases?
Ridley Pearson: Yes, they certainly do. A perfect example of that is the so-called railroad murderer. The FBI have been pursuing this man for many, many months, but the rest of us only became acutely aware of it within the last two weeks or so, when the FBI finally turned to the media to help them get the word out. There is a real give and take between the police and the media, and hopefully THE FIRST VICTIM portrays both sides of this -- when the two parties butt heads as well as when they work in concert.
Elise from Brooklyn, NY: How much research did you do for THE FIRST VICTIM? Did you speak with police departments and investigate sweat shops?
Ridley Pearson: Much of the research for THE FIRST VICTIM was what I term paper research, as opposed to field research. Many of the books, if not all of the books, have a great deal of both paper and field research. However, in THE FIRST VICTIM, knowing that I was going to portray the INS in a slightly unfavorable light, I kept my field research to police, medical examiners, oceanographers, and forensics lab experts. I used my fictional license to bring the INS into the story.
Sara Hospador from Tacoma, WA: I would like to know why you chose Seattle as the town to set your Detective Boldt novels. Was there something about the city that intrigued you, or was it just that Seattle was the city that you were most familiar with?
Ridley Pearson: Great question! Actually, it was in part monetary. Twelve or 13 years ago, when I went to set the novel UNDERCURRENTS in a city, I had about $250 to my name. Living in central Idaho at the time, I checked a map to see how far I could get on $250. And Seattle, ever an intriguing city, seemed my best bet. It proved to be a gold mine. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, and even mysterious, with its winds, fog, and multicultural makeup, but the law enforcement departments there generously welcomed my efforts, and I was able to establish research contacts that I've used for the last decade.
Kitty Bucholtz from Phoenix, AZ: Hi, Ridley! I have a question about your new picture for the book jacket. In BEYOND RECOGNITION, your picture makes you look friendly and funny. In THE FIRST VICTIM, I don't know if I should be more scared of the bad guys or the author! Any reason for the change, or just feel like adding some spice?
Ridley Pearson: Publishers. Publishers. Publishers. I was flown back to New York for a photo shoot by a very famous photographer, and despite an eight-hour shoot, both in studios and on the streets of Manhattan, my publisher did not want me smiling. I objected, because I smile all the time, but that shows you how much clout I have.
Amy from Palmetto, FL: Where does the title THE FIRST VICTIM come from?
Ridley Pearson: In repeat offenses, especially violent felonies, law enforcement is often most intrigued by the first of those crimes, because this is often where the most mistakes are made. In THE FIRST VICTIM, some of the story line leads us to a graveyard in Seattle. I will say no more, but I think you get the idea....
Katherine from Lincoln, NE: Hello, Ridley. Which do you like better, writing your books or researching them?
Ridley Pearson: Fun question. The research is often the greater thrill. On my book tours, I recant research stories that were either fun or terrifying. The writing of the books is certainly work: THE FIRST VICTIM went through eight full drafts -- nearly 4,000 pages -- in order to come up with a 400-page novel. But I do love the writing experience. There's something magical about being caught up in one's fantasies day in and day out.
Patrick Mitchell from Bethlehem, PA: This is your 12th novel, and your 6th Boldt novel. Bravo! How long do you see this series continuing?
Ridley Pearson: As long as the series stays fresh, for both me and you, the reader, I'd love to keep exploring Boldt. My publisher is perhaps even more eager than I am to stay with the Boldt series, at least in the short term. But I count on you, the reader, to please tell me if you ever think the series is beginning to get stale. It's the last thing I want!
Karen Henley from Brooklyn, NY: Your writing is so smart, and I particularly like how intricate Boldt's relationship is with his wife. It sounds like Liz's newfound spirituality makes Lou uncomfortable. I'm just wondering if you'd elaborate on this a little more in terms of why you decided to add this facet to their relationship. Thanks.
Ridley Pearson: I think it's interesting when two people who live together and love one another also find themselves on differing courses -- whether that's spiritual or an interest or an addiction. With Boldt being as pragmatic as he is, I thought this was one area of his life where he could use some shaking up, and so I explored it.
Loman from Sacramento, CA: Last time you were on bn.com, you mentioned that Richard Dreyfuss was interested in the role of Boldt for the film version of BEYOND RECOGNITION. Are we any further in the casting of that movie?
Ridley Pearson: Oh, we are, we are. Unfortunately I have not received permission to discuss this publicly, but if you want to send me an email through our web site, at ridleypearson.com, I'd be happy to fill you in. Let me just say, things look very, very good for the Boldt books to become films, either quality television or theater, we're not sure yet.
Andrew from barnesandnoble.com: Your press material for THE FIRST VICTIM mentions the fact that UNDERCURRENTS was responsible for solving a real-life murder case. Could you elaborate? Thanks.
Ridley Pearson: It's a long story. A prosecuting attorney happened to be reading UNDERCURRENTS when a dead body floated to the surface in his jurisdiction. He then contacted and used the very same experts I had used in UNDERCURRENTS to chart tidal currents and predict the path of the dead body. That in turn brought in enough evidence to eventually convict the woman's husband of murder. He is presently serving a 31-year sentence.
Bud from Greenwich, CT: I heard that you auction off the opportunity for someone's name to appear in your novels for charity. How about that? Is there a character named in THE FIRST VICTIM that's part of this program? How does one bid?
Ridley Pearson: There are two names in THE PIED PIPER and more in books prior to that and yet more to come next year. The way it works is that various charity organizations contact me and ask me to donate the right to be a character in the book for their auctions. As often as we can, we agree to this. In one case, we sold two names off on the same night and raised $11,000. To date, the efforts have raised a little over $20,000. And we're happy to be part of that.
Heidi from Los Gatos, CA: Hey, R.P. You're so incredible at character development. I particularly love the way you write Boldt and Daphne together. There isn't anywhere near enough of them in THE FIRST VICTIM. Will there be more in the next book? :)
Ridley Pearson: Hey, I know you! (The question comes from my webmaster, Heidi Mack.) Yes, in next year's novel, called THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.
Liz from Middletown, CT: I read with great interest the article that appeared in USA Today that a friend sent to me. As a special-ed teacher I have a great interest in the rights of all individuals. To think that such inhuman treatment is going on was shocking to me. My eyes have been opened. What would you recommend as the next step toward stopping this form of slavery?
Ridley Pearson: I'm not sure there's an easy answer to that. As long as we have tight borders, necessitated by both wage prices and the escalating cost of social services, and as long as there are political regimes from which people flee, I'm afraid those people will be willing to pay almost any price, monetarily or otherwise, to search for the freedom that human beings inherently want. Something has to be done. Perhaps it's coming up with extremely tough sentencing for people convicted in the smuggling of human beings. I don't have the answers, but I'm as appalled as you are and hope that something like THE FIRST VICTIM will help nudge people's awareness.
Betsy Dodge from Bellevue, ID: Loved your book! Has any of this problem with the Chinese been solved? Are the Chinese women misled in planning their trip to the United States?
Ridley Pearson: Hi, Mom! I think the Chinese illegals are misled in that jobs are promised on the other end that don't exist, and I'm not sure there are any easy solutions. (Say "Hi" to Dad!)
Ken Werner from Billings, MT: How does a thriller writer cope these days without the benefit of the cold war? The Chinese Triad seems to be an excellent new "bad guy." Is their influence truly felt in the northwest?
Ridley Pearson: Absolutely. Their influence is felt in many of the major cities, especially coastal cities in the country. And you're right, they make an interesting antagonist. Although in this case, it was the story that fed their involvement in the book, not the author's imagination.
Richard Friedman from Edina, MN: Hello. How particular are you about listening to music when you write? Do you ever play music to match the moods of your plots?
Ridley Pearson: That's a great question. And in fact I do use music to match the plot. A good deal of the time I write in absolute silence, but I also use classical, rock, and jazz at all volumes as a means to enhance the creative process.
Gene Sofie from Washougal, WA: Good afternoon, Ridley. When will Mr. McCall's book, CONCERTO IN DEAD FLAT, be in bookstores?
Ridley Pearson: Gene is referring to another series that I write under a pseudonym, Wendell McCall. I hadn't published a Wendell book in about ten years, but over the past few years have written a Wendell loosely based on my year in Oxford as the Raymond Chandler Fellow. The books are straight-ahead detective novels, like a Spenser or a Travis McGee. CONCERTO is in some stores as I write this and is available through poisonpenpress.com. If you can't find the book, drop me an email through my Ridley Pearson site and we'll connect you with the publisher.
Moderator: Thank you, Ridley Pearson! This was a great discussion. We wish you the best of luck with THE FIRST VICTIM. Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience tonight?
Ridley Pearson: It's such a pleasure to be in touch with readers! I spend so much of my time (70 hours a week) writing these novels, so to get out and meet people, even in a chat room, is a thrill. Thanks to everyone for giving me the best job on earth, and I hope you enjoy the books half as much as I enjoy writing them. Thanks especially to barnesandnoble.com for having me on. Sure hope to see you next time. Ridley
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read several of Pearson's novels and truly thought this one was the best. I could not put it down!!!
Mildly entertaining; however, the ending seemed a bit contrived and "hurried" and less than satisfying to this reader.