BY: LAURA MUNDER
A dark winter night. Sophie Myerson is a staff psychologist at an out-patient mental health clinic in Washington, DC. Her workday is over, but Sophie stays late to finish writing a psychological test report. Thoughts of her upcoming wedding distract her, and she is delighted when her fiancé calls to say he wants to stop by. He looks awful. She’s concerned. And then he tells her their engagement is off. There will be no wedding. No marriage. The future she envisioned is gone. She lashes out, too shocked and distraught to listen, and flees down the clinic steps to the sidewalk and onto the grounds of the recreation center. Her foot hits something. She stumbles. A dead woman is staring up with vacant eyes—she’s been strangled with her own scarf. A female patient at the clinic is soon murdered the same way. Sophie’s life is in a tailspin. Her friends and colleagues are suspects. She misses her ex-fiancé. She doesn’t know who to trust anymore. Scariest of all, if the murders are connected, she fears a serial killer is lurking in her neighborhood, hunting prey.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Impulse to Murder by Laura Munder, Sophie Myerson is a psychologist in Washington, DC. She is engaged to an attorney who suddenly calls off the wedding. Shocked and distraught, Sophie flees out onto the street and nearly stumbles over the body of a young woman, someone she knows. As the bodies begin to pile up, Sophie is determined to find the killer before anyone else dies. But Sophie doesn’t realize she is putting a bulls-eye target on her own back and that, even if she finds out who the killer is, she may not live long enough to tell anyone what she knows.
Munder’s character development is superb, and Sophie is absolutely enchanting. Well written and fast paced, this is one that mystery fans are sure to enjoy.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Impulse to Murder by Laura Munder is the story of a psychologist in Washington, DC, who has a really bad day. First, Sophie Myerson’s fiancé, a local attorney, tells her their engagement is off. Then when she flees from him in shock and dismay, she trips over a body in the park. A young woman is dead, and what is worse, the main suspect is a friend of Sophie’s. When another young woman, this time a patient at the clinic where Sophie works, is murdered, Sophie wonders just who among her friends and associates she can trust. Since her ex-fiancé is also a prosecutor in Washington, DC, Sophie is determined to make him help her find the killer before the reputation of the clinic, and everyone who works there, is damaged beyond repair. But can she even trust her ex-fiancé? Or her coworkers, most of whom knew both victims?
Written in first person for the main character, and third person for another, Impulse to Murder is intriguing, well written, and fast paced. The characters are charming and the author’s voice refreshing—a really good read.
Carrie stopped by my office at the end of the work day. Most of the staff at the Hartley Mental Health Out-Patient Clinic left around six—including me—but our hours were flexible to accommodate patients. Tonight, I needed to stay late and finish writing a psychological test report. My phone rang and Barney’s name showed in caller ID. Dr. Barnard Hisselman was my boss, the director of Adult Services at the clinic where Carrie and I were staff psychologists. He wanted me in his office.
“I bet he got wind of your wedding plans.” Carrie said. She was bundled up in a winter coat, hat, and scarf. She pulled on her gloves. “Are you going to invite him, Sophie?”
“I can’t see any way not to.”
Barney hated to be excluded and his sulking would have driven me nuts.
“If you hedge about the date, he might book a cruise and be unable to attend.”
We waved goodbye in the hallway, and she headed toward the parking lot while I went to Barney’s office.
“Come in, Sophie. Sit down.”
The room had a strong confectionary aroma. Barney had attended a conference that morning on Borderline Personality Disorder, which would have included caveats about suicide and litigation, which would have panicked him into checking patient charts for documentation of suicidal risk, which would have bored Barney and awakened his craving for sugar. The evidence was arrayed before me—an empty bakery box poked out of his wastebasket, patient charts were scattered on his desk, cookie crumbs coated his shirt, and his stomach rested on his legs like a blown-up beach ball.
“What’s up, Barney?”
“Your hair looks different, Sophie.”
He was stating the obvious. My thirtieth birthday was around the corner and, in a misguided attempt to stop looking like a teenager with big wiry hair, I’d worn it up that day. Instead of adding gravitas, I looked like I had an electrocuted animal in a state of rigor mortis on top of my head.
“Is that why you wanted me to stop by, Barney, to talk about my hair?”
It was not out of the question. Barney had spent a portion of my last employee evaluation discussing his nose hair. The nose hair discourse raised a perennial stumper: how in God’s name had Barney Hisselman ended up running Adult Services? The only plausible explanation was that, upon completion of his psychiatric residency, Barney’s supervisors, in a frantic attempt to steer him away from direct patient care, found him an administrative job. They must have figured it was more prudent to have him drive his staff crazy than to torment people whose mental health was already seriously impaired.
“What do you think about those low-carb diets everyone’s going on?” Barney could no more stay on a diet than I could give up caffeine. And his food intake was something I never wanted to get embroiled in again. I knew more about his digestive tract than I knew about my own.
“I have no opinion on any diets, Barney.”
“So, Sophie—” His high ears and long face meant that, when Barney’s expression turned sheepish, he actually resembled a sheep. “—is it true you and Jeremy set a wedding date? You’re getting married?”
I broke into a smile. I really couldn’t believe my luck. Jeremy was sweet, reliable, funny, and, although raised in South Carolina, the Republican vestiges of his upbringing had disappeared, leaving behind a honeyed accent that melted my bones. “Yes, it’ll probably be sometime in June. Carrie and Alan offered to hold the ceremony and reception at their house, which takes the pressure off. We haven’t locked down the details yet, but you and Gayle are on the guest list.”
“Who else are you inviting from the clinic?”
“Just Steve and Carrie.” They were my two closest friends.
“I don’t understand, Sophie, what about Jack Cassidy and Delores? And you’re not going to invite your interns?” He seemed to be itching to expand my guest list.
“We want to keep it under fifty people.” I stood and moved backward toward the door. “See you tomorrow, Barney.”
I was on my way back to my office with wedding thoughts on my mind, nodding goodbye to staff members leaving for the day, when Jeremy’s ringtone played on my cellphone. “Jeremy,” I whispered into the phone, “I was just thinking about you.”
“I’m on my way over, Sophie.”
“Over where? I’m still at the clinic.” Normally I’d be on my way home and Jeremy would still be at work. The pace of his job as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, ranged from busy to ridiculously busy, and he was in a ridiculously busy phase. “I’m staying late to write a test report.”
“Aren’t you in the middle of a trial, Jeremy?”
Ned Olmason, a psychology intern I supervised, walked by zipping up his coat. I smiled, and he raised a hand in a wave.
“Yes, I’m in for a long night, but I wanted to see you. I’ll come to the clinic.”
A man’s voice carried from the waiting room: “Fuck you and fuck the horse you rode in on, fuck all the fucking horses.”
“Hold on, Jeremy.” I lowered the phone and hurried to see what the problem was. Two women sat in the room with tense expressions, avoiding the ranting man. I made eye contact with him.
“I’m Dr. Myerson. Are you here to see Dr. Cassidy?”
Jack Cassidy, our psychiatrist, worked late on Thursday nights doing medication checks, and this man clearly needed to have his medication checked.
He handed me a crumpled paper. “I have an appointment.”
“Good. I’ll let Dr. Cassidy know you’re here.”
“I can see you now, Tim.” Jack came up behind me and motioned to the man.
I flashed Jack a thankful smile and brought the phone back to my ear.
“I’ll be there soon.”
“Wait, you’re coming to the clinic?”
He’d already hung up. I entered my office, feeling perplexed. Jeremy either came to my apartment after work, or I went to his, or we met at a restaurant. He never came to the clinic. Something was off. He’d seemed tense lately, which had given me a flutter of anxiety, but then again, he was in the middle of prosecuting a rash of gang murders. Maybe the oddity was me working late. If Jeremy had already driven across town from the Department of Justice, detouring to the clinic instead of driving to my apartment was no big deal. I had broken our routine.
I stared at the test data on my desk. The idea popped into my mind that Jeremy had bought an engagement ring as a surprise. I’d told him the expense was unnecessary. We were saving money for a house, but maybe—
I put the test data in a folder and locked it in a drawer. My concentration was shot. I waited at the clinic entrance for him. Soon, he ran up the steps, lithe and agile. I let him in quickly with a blast of cold air.
“Come see my home away from home,” I said when he arrived.
I scurried ahead to lead the way, eager to show him my office. Inside, I closed the door, turned to face him, and was stunned by his appearance. He looked like a zombie with dark circles under his blood-shot eyes. Prosecuting gang members who murdered potential witnesses created enormous stress.
I moved to kiss him, and he held me back. He had never rejected a kiss before.
“Jeremy, my love, what is it?”
“I can’t do this, Sophie. I’m so sorry.”
“What can’t you do?”
“I can’t marry you, Sophie. I’m so sorry.”
He had proposed. I had accepted. “Jeremy, please, everything will be okay. We’ll get through this. Tell me what’s wrong. What happened?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Stop saying that.” My head was spinning. Everything was a blur. “Whatever’s bothering you, tell me. We can figure it out together.”
“Not this, Sophie.”
How could our relationship be fine one day and over the next? I’d been with Jeremy for two years. We knew each other. We loved each other. He didn’t have a history of depression. There was no mental illness in his family, but something was way off kilter. Had he had a biopsy he hadn’t told me about? Had he been given terrifying medical news? I touched his face. “Are you sick, Jeremy?”
His eyes filled with tears. I’d never seen him cry before. Nothing made sense. I wanted to tell him about the caterer I found. I made an appointment for us to sample their food over the weekend. And tomorrow night we were taking Carrie and Alan out to thank them for offering to host our reception.
I began to pace, grief and rage closing in on me. Jeremy had worked almost non-stop the past few weeks. He’d been too tired to make love, but that had happened once before when he was prosecuting a big case. What cues had I missed? His hand reached out to me as I passed by. I smacked it back and kept moving. He had no right to touch me.
Was he being threatened? I knew how tense his office was. Had the defendants’ fellow gang members threatened the prosecutors’ families? Was Jeremy calling off our wedding to protect me from harm?
“Sophie?” His voice seemed to come from far away. “Say something, Sophie, please.”
“Is it the trial? Is that why you’re doing this? You don’t want the gang coming after me.”
“The trial?” He looked confused. “No, Sophie.”
He wasn’t trying to protect me. This had nothing to do with keeping me safe. I didn’t matter. My face was coated with tears. I grabbed tissues from the box on my desk and blew my nose. “Were you pretending to love me?”
“I wasn’t pretending. You don’t deserve this, Sophie. I am so sorry.”
I sat down and stared at my hands. I couldn’t look at him. “Why, Jeremy? I don’t understand.”
“I’m fucked up. It’s completely my fault. This isn’t about you. I never should have put you in this position.” His phone rang. He put it on silence. “My life got turned upside down. I’m not sure where to begin.” His phone vibrated again. The thought crossed my mind he had a girlfriend trying to get in touch. I grabbed the phone, furious, ready to throw it in his face, but he was getting a text message from his boss, typed in caps, demanding an immediate response. Gang murder trials were a high priority. They didn’t want to screw this one up. I tossed him the phone. Rage burst out of me like a fireball.
“Go deal with your fucking emergency. I can’t stand the sight of you.” I ran to the door.
“Sophie, wait. I’ll get back to him in a minute.”
“Really, if I wait, I’ll get one minute of your time? One fucking minute to understand why everything I’ve been looking forward to is never going to happen. This is the worst moment of my life.”
“You don’t get to say that, Jeremy. That’s like a murderer who shoots someone asking to be pitied because he doesn’t like watching people die. Fuck you, Jeremy, and fuck the horse you rode in on.”
I stormed out of the office. He might as well have thrown acid on my brain because all the memories that used to bring joy were rapidly corroding. I ran down the clinic steps to the street and raced along the sidewalk trying to numb my pain through movement.
“Sophie, wait.” Jeremy was calling to me, but I kept going.
He was a runner. I wasn’t. He caught up and handed me my coat. “You must be freezing.”
I put the coat on, and he handed me my purse. Knowing Jeremy, he’d stopped to turn off the lights in my office and close the door behind him.
He put his arm around me. “Let me take you home, Sophie. I shouldn’t have told you at the clinic.”
I wanted to bite his hand. I shoved him away. Tears streamed down my face. “Leave me alone. Go live your stupid life.”
There were other people on the sidewalk, an elderly man walking a dog, a couple of teenagers giggling as they approached. I ran onto the grounds of the neighborhood recreation center so I wouldn’t be seen. The building was set back from the street at the end of a long driveway. Much of the area was dark, offering space to lose myself among the trees without trespassing on private property. Jeremy followed, which made him harder to hate, but not by any significant amount.
“Let me drive you home, Sophie. You can’t wander around out here.”
“Yes, I can.” I kept moving. He kept pace with me. I could hear him in the underbrush. “Go away,” I called over my shoulder. “Leave me alone.”
My foot hit a tree root. I stumbled. Jeremy grabbed my arm as I pitched forward. I had a childish impulse to kick at the root, but I didn’t want to stub my toe. Then, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized the root was a young woman. She was lying on the ground, motionless. Her unblinking eyes were wide open in the cold night air.
© 2018 by Laura Munder