BY: MAURO AZZANO
The phone rings at four in the morning. For Ian McBriar, now a Detective Inspector with the Toronto Police Department, early morning phone calls are never a good thing. And this is no exception. Starting with a grizzly death and a warehouse fire, Ian follows the trail of a cold-case unsolved murder and a baffling series of clues, hunting for an elusive serial killer. And, this time, it’s not only his life on the line. The deeper he digs, the more perplexing the case becomes, the more bodies pile up—and the more dangerous it is for everyone Ian cares about.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Death by Deceit by Mauro Azzano, Detective Sergeant Ian McBriar is back. This time he’s after a professional assassin, one who makes few, if any, mistakes. He follows the clues from a cold case, working with his old partner, and wades his way through numerous crime scenes, trying to get enough evidence to figure out who the killer is.
This is the third book in the Ian McBriar murder mystery series, and like its predecessors, it’s a fast-paced, hard-hitting, police-procedural mystery. I like the fact that Azzano’s characters grow and develop from book to book, as much as I like the fact that I can’t figure out who the bad guy is until McBriar does. A well-written who-done-it for serious mystery fans.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Death by Deceit by Mauro Azzano is the third in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series. And like the first two, this one doesn’t disappoint. This time Ian is after a cold-hearted, professional assassin, with a number of hits to his credit. One of these hits is a cold-case murder, in which Frank’s (Ian’s current partner) old partner was killed. Frank has now retired, but he comes back to work with Ian when the evidence points to the killer being the same one as in the eight-year-old case.
Azzano tells an exciting tale of death, criminals, and people who aren’t what they seem. Death by deceit indeed. This is another fast-paced page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat right until the end.
I run down a long corridor, gripping my revolver tight. I look left and right, but there are no doors, no passages, and no sign of the man I’m chasing. I don’t know who he is, I just know I’m chasing him. I run my hand along the wall, feeling for a crack that might be a hidden door. A speaker in the ceiling clicks and I hear an alarm bell up in the ceiling. The alarm rings again, insistent.
Opening my eyes, I reached out and answered the telephone. The caller told me that what first looked like simple arson now looked like something more.
It was now four in the morning, and the road was still wet from a cold rain the previous evening–puddles in the uneven street made a “‘whoosh’” sound as my car splashed through them. I turned the heater on full blast to clear the mist off my windows, and drove down Yonge Street toward the Gardiner Expressway, then farther on to the warehouses by the docks.
This early in the day, only a few buses and delivery trucks were on the road, along with the odd taxi taking home late-night partygoers or rushing passengers to the airport for an early flight.
The cold, dark night slowly gave way to the coming morning, a soft gray glow in the southeast, across Lake Ontario, getting lighter by the minute.
Turning east, paralleling the waterfront, I drove past Great Lakes cargo ships and ocean-going freighters, toward a group of fire trucks, finally stopping at barricades that blocked a gravel parking lot.
I opened my Moleskine notebook and wrote today’s date: Sunday, April 10, 1977.
Out the side window, I saw a policeman talking to a firefighter. As the firefighter walked away toward a red pumper truck, the policeman glanced at me and shook his head.
“No press. No press,” the policeman grunted. “This is a crime scene. Beat it.” He squinted as I proffered my badge, came closer, and recognized me. He poked a thumb over his shoulder. “Oh, hey, sorry, Inspector. Yeah, we got a body inside.”
“No problem. We’ve met before, I think?” I said.
He nodded. “Tom O’Malley–Fifty-three division. We spoke last year, at a hit-and-run.”
“I remember your report on that case, Tom. Good work. Are my people here?”
He looked at the building behind him. “Yes, sir. Sergeant Walsh and Constable Ogilvie are over there with the firefighters.”
Looking past him, I saw one corner of a building–thirty feet tall, red brick and flat roof–was charred and scorched. The rest of the building, half the size of a football field, seemed untouched.
“What do we have, then?” I asked.
He pointed at the building. “Well, sir–” he started.
“Ian,” I said.
“Ian. Okay, Ian.” He relaxed slightly. “The victim’s name is Stefan Gracic, the warehouse manager. We found a kerosene heater in his office. Looks like it tipped over, caught fire, and cooked him. Looks like that’s what killed him.”
“Looks Like? You don’t buy it, then?”
He shook his head. “I knew this guy. We cover this beat, my partner and me. We talked to Stefan maybe once, twice a month. We’d get kids who park here to get high, or get laid, or to steal stuff. He’d always call us. He was careful. I can’t imagine him letting the heater fall over like that.”
I made brief notes in my notebook, quick shorthand symbols, then glanced over his shoulder. “Any word from my guys yet?”
“Sergeant Walsh is getting a look at the scene. Ogilvie is there, too.”
That last part seemed dismissive, I thought. I smiled to put him at ease. “How’s Ogilvie doing? It’s his first case as a detective.”
He shrugged and looked at the ground, hesitant, deciding how to answer.
“Speak your mind, Tom. I’m not going to hold it against you at all,” I said.
He shuffled his feet nervously. “Yeah, well, maybe people can change, but I remember Danny from when he was in uniform. He doesn’t have what it takes to be a detective, I don’t think. He’s an all-right cop, but he’s an Indian, not a chief.” He glanced up, suddenly embarrassed, and his eyes widened. “Sorry, no offence, you know.”
I chuckled. “None taken. Thanks. This conversation stays just between us, by the way.”
He let me duck under the yellow caution tape to meet my men. I stepped carefully on the gravel lot, picking my way around potholes and hopping onto dry patches wherever possible. I was still cold, but slowly warming up, or getting used to the chill. I couldn’t tell which. As I got close, Walsh heard the crunch of gravel under my feet and turned around, nodding in recognition.
Detective Sergeant Patrick Walsh gestured at the charred corner of the warehouse, talking to a firefighter and making notes. He looked out of place, as if dragged out here in the middle of an important business meeting.
His navy blue silk suit was impeccable. The crease in the pants was sharp, only the bottoms of his polished loafers slightly muddy. His tie, crisp and perfectly smooth, bore the crest of a private school. I half expected him to step into a limousine, not a cruiser.
Detective Constable Daniel Ogilvie, as he’d introduced himself a week before, seemed equally out of place. Slightly overweight and disheveled, he reminded me of a stereotypical beat cop. He looked around with a bored expression, occasionally nodded to the uniforms he recognized, and sipped coffee from a Styrofoam cup, waiting for something interesting to happen. His suit, a faded brown polyester two piece, had seen better days. There was a scuff on one elbow and a tear, carefully mended, in the back vent.
Walsh waved at me and smiled. “Hello, boss. Happy Easter. Sorry to drag you out of bed.”
“Goes with the turf, Patrick. Happy Easter to you too. Where are we so far?”
Ogilvie stepped forward. “Looks like an accident, Ian,” he interjected. “I don’t think it’ll take long to wrap this up.”
Walsh stared at him for a moment and gritted his teeth. “Danny,” he said in a measured tone, “I think Inspector McBriar was talking to me.”
Ogilvie shrugged and laughed nervously. “Sorry, Ian.”
“Inspector,” I said, coldly.
“Pardon?” Ogilvie asked.
“Call me ‘Inspector,’” I said. “Or you can just call me ‘sir,’ for the time being.”
He blushed a deep red. “Sorry, Inspector, sir. Sorry. I just meant, you know, that I think–”
I held my hand up. “Danny, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Speak when you’re spoken to.”
He looked glumly back at Walsh.
Walsh sneered. “As I was saying, I spoke to the uniforms as well as the firefighters, and I have to disagree with Danny. I think the arson was either a cover-up, or a byproduct of the crime.”
Ogilvie stared at him, mouth open, puzzled. I ignored him.
“What do you think happened, Patrick?” I asked.
Walsh pointed his slim gold pen at the charred building. “First off, the victim–Stefan Gracic–his office was in the top corner here. It’s the warmest part of the building, and it was not that cold last night. Yet they say he had a kerosene heater going?” He checked his notes. “Forty degrees Fahrenheit, or about five degrees Celsius. He had an electric heater in the office, too.” He flipped the page on his notebook, reading the note he’d written, and shook his head. “Why would he use a kerosene heater when he had an electric heater in the room? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Did it work?” I asked. “Maybe it didn’t work, and that’s why he needed the kerosene heater.”
“Yeah, the firemen checked it. It works fine. They tell me the fire didn’t start at the electric heater, either,” Walsh answered.
“When did they say that, Sarge?” Ogilvie asked.
Walsh closed his notebook. “An hour before you got here,” he said, icily.
I walked on toward the warehouse, jumping puddles in a zigzag path toward a man in a heavy canvas jacket with CHIEF sewn on the back in yellow letters. He had a helmet tucked under his right arm, and a walkie-talkie in his left hand. He was gesturing at two firemen on the roof of the warehouse, waving them to move back, then turned to face me as I approached him.
“Who are you?” he growled.
He was a lean, solid man, average height, in his mid-forties, with a salt and pepper gray flattop haircut, a stubble of gray beard, and a prominent scar on his forehead.
“Detective Inspector Ian McBriar. I’m handling the police side of the investigation.”
He grunted, moved his helmet to his left arm, and stuck his right hand out at me. I shook it.
“Colin Snyder. I’m the district chief. I called you in. You been here long?”
“I just got here. What’s the word from your end, Chief?” I asked.
He pointed at the charred corner of the warehouse. “We got here just after midnight. Lucky thing it started in the office. There’s a bunch of pricey electronics and some flammable crap in the back. We got the fire contained pretty quick, spent some time putting wet stuff on the red stuff. We couldn’t get anywhere close to the victim for the first hour, though. Still, I figure he was dead before they lit the match.”
“You’re thinking it was a match?” I asked.
He grunted a yes, frowned, and looked up at me. “Detective Inspector McBriar? You’re that Indian cop, right?”
“Metis,” I corrected.
He frowned, thinking. “Metis. You got shot–in seventy three, seventy four?”
I smiled. “You have a good memory. Four years ago. March of seventy three, right.”
“How’s the shoulder?” he asked.
“I’ll never be a pro bowler,” I joked. “Match. You said a match,” I reminded him.
He waved his hand toward himself. “Come with me.”
Wearing a borrowed helmet, I followed him into the warehouse, up a set of metal stairs bolted to the inside wall, and through a wooden door, or what was left of it, to the manager’s office.
I shuddered slightly as I went up the stairs, wondering just what I’d find. After all these years, it was still unsettling to see a murder victim in person. At the top of the stairs, I saw there was a metal desk against one wall, the industrial gray paint still fresh in spots, with rounded corners and stamped drawer fronts.
Beside it, a tall filing cabinet was tipped over. In the clutter of the office, I almost didn’t see the dead man. He blended into the blackened wood floor and, in the dim light of a portable construction lamp, I saw the victim on the floor. I didn’t want to stare, but I couldn’t look away, either.
He looked like a large pile of burnt, blackened rags, with only a pair of legs poking out to tell me it had once been a human being. His skin, charred and rough, paled as it went into the dead man’s shoes
The fire chief pointed at a ribbon of black wood leading out the door. “Here,” he said. “I figure they dribbled a line of kerosene from the heater, then they tipped it over by the dead guy and lit the match before they took off down the stairs.”
“You’re pretty sure about the match, then?” I asked.
The fire chief pointed to a spot on the floor. A slightly raised cinder, shorter than my thumb, lay across the line of charred wood, curving up like a banana. “The match,” he declared.
I bent down to examine it.
“Don’t touch it!” he barked.
“Don’t worry, just looking.” I glanced at what was left of the warehouse manager and sighed. I said a quick silent prayer for his soul and turned back to the fire chief. “So you’ve seen this before?” I asked. “This is my first burned body, that’s all.”
“Yeah, I’ve been to a lot of barbecues,” he grunted. “Tell you what–I’ll bet you a case of beer he was dead before the fire started.”
I frowned. “Why do you say that?”
As my eyes got used to the dim light, I could make out some features on the dead man. The fingers on both hands curled in, clutching at the air.
The man’s face was contorted, gasping for air. There was a look of anguish in his face, still visible through the blackened skin.
Snyder pointed at the charred body. “Usually, if they’re trying to make it to safety, they stretch out as they crawl. Or if they fall asleep drunk, we find them sitting in a chair or on a chesterfield or something. This guy was curled up. Plus, there’s the ‘boxer’s stance.’ If he collapsed and died on the floor, usually the muscles shrivel as he burns, and it looks like he’s putting his dukes up. Not this guy.” He shook his head. “I’d bet hard money this guy was dead before he burned.”
“Okay, so it certainly looks like murder. I’ll get the ball rolling in that direction,” I said.
We shook hands again, and I went back outside, the cold morning air sweet and fresh after the pungent smell of death inside the warehouse. Walsh and Ogilvie were still talking to the firefighters, getting the last few details before the coroner came to officially remove the body.
Walsh looked up from writing in his notebook. “What’s the word, boss?” he asked.
“Looks like you were right, Patrick. Our fire chief says that it was arson, and he figures the victim was dead before he burned. That makes this our party.”
Walsh looked over at Ogilvie and grimaced. “Free time is overrated, anyway. We’ll contact next of kin and have the report on your desk in the morning, boss.”
“Cool. I’m off to church. See you both in the office tomorrow morning.”
“Hey, are you having dinner with Frank and Helen today?” he asked.
“That’s the plan.”
Walsh gave me a brilliant smile that lit up the street. “Give them all my best.”
“Shall do.” I nodded and walked back to my car.
© 2015 by Maura Azzano