BY: ROBERT DOWNS
Charlottesville, Virginia, Police Detective Luke McGinty has a closet filled with demons, along with a few skeletons; a steady job, but no steady partner or girlfriend; and is still married to his wife Sallie, even though she’s been dead for three years. Then his detective work takes a turn for the worse when a body is discovered at the downtown mall. One dead body isn’t enough, though, and another one turns up. When ties to a cold murder case in another county present themselves, Luke realizes that, if he doesn’t tread carefully, he could end up short more than just a few answers…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Penchant for Vengeance by Robert Downs, Luke McGinty is a homicide detective with the Charlottesville Police. When a dead body turns up at the mall, Luke thinks it a religious murder and tries to link it to an old case. But the clues are sketchy, and as the bodies begin to pile up, he wonders just how far the killer will go. Answers are hard to come by when everyone seems to be lying, and Luke puts his career on the line as well as his life.
The story has a solid plot, wonderful characters, and plenty of surprises to keep you riveted all the way through. If you are looking for a good police procedural mystery, you can’t go wrong with this one.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Penchant for Vengeance by Robert Downs is the story of a cop who is determine to solve murder cases, even if they aren’t in his jurisdiction. Luke McGinty is a homicide detective who takes his job seriously. When a body is discovered at the mall, Luke ties it to an old case that was never solved. As he investigates his new murder, he discovers the cold case was handled poorly and not properly investigated. But Luke runs into trouble with his own team when he tries to solve the cold case too. Struggling to find the murderer, who kills again soon after, Luke realizes he is also fighting for his job and maybe his life.
Penchant for Vengeance is well written, fast paced, and will hook you from the very first page. Downs’s character development is superb, and you can’t help rooting for Luke. A good, solid read.
Traffic was light–Charlottesville, Virginia, despite being a college town, had a curfew–the morning was dark, and a light mist filled the air, adding drops of water to my bright yellow 1974 Camaro. I took the back roads, rather than using US 250 to reach the downtown mall, with Regal Cinema located near the center, off Main Street. I reached the scene in less than ten minutes, including parking, without using a siren, or running a single red light. The body, however, wasn’t nearly as successful as I was.
“Can’t you guys pick a more reasonable hour?” I asked. “Crime should wait until at least nine o’clock.”
“Why don’t you get your butt out of bed like everyone else?” a cop said.
The man didn’t look familiar, nor did his crew cut, wide shoulders, and pressed uniform. His face lacked wrinkles, and his scowl provided more menace than a rabbit with a semi-automatic weapon.
“I did. I’m here, aren’t I?”
I’d flashed my shield to get in, and now I wanted to flash my nine-millimeter. The early hour meant a yawn preceded one hand wrapped around the thick neck of my competition. I preferred reasonable solutions since reasonableness was all I had left. “What do we know?” I asked.
“We know you don’t belong here,” Nelson Rivers said.
Like his name implied, he preferred headlocks to handshakes and shaved heads over full-haired ones. He and I had respectfully disagreed on multiple occasions, so often I couldn’t remember the last time we’d ever agreed on anything other than the day of the week. He had hands the size of pencil sharpeners, and he pushed more buttons than he allowed pushed in return. What he needed was a little less mouth and a lot more action.
I ignored his comment. Ignorance was a hard emotion to pin down, but it seemed to rear its ugly head quicker than the other ones. And crime scenes brought out a special kind of ignorance. I had a few emotions left in my system, despite the hour, and I wanted to save them for the victim, who appeared about my age.
The body was bent like a pretzel. Wounds that were possibly from a knife or a whip slathered the body from the neck to the pubic region, deep enough to resemble tattoos. Some were spaced closely enough to disfigure the top half of the body, rendering an exact age nearly impossible. A crime of passion entered the forefront of my mind, and it clung to the roof of my mouth. The victim probably knew his killer intimately, or was, at the very least, an acquaintance.
The wounds stood out for me: a multitude of lacerations that made me unable to look away. When I scanned below the belt, I noticed the mutilated genitalia, rendering the man much less of one. I didn’t like the look of the scene, with the body splayed at an obscene angle, dropped right outside the glass front doors of Regal Cinema to render two of the doors nearly impassable. It resembled something. I just wasn’t sure what. I’d probably blocked it out of my mind, being that I frequented this particular cinema and watched more movies than I cared to admit.
I hoped it never came back, the thought I had blocked. It always did in the end. That was what hurt the most: Movies exacerbated the oddities of life.
Killers were usually born not made, but sometimes, it was the other way around.
The victim’s hands were positioned above his head, forming a triangle, as if he prayed in death to some higher power. Positioned that way by the killer, his hands rubbed up against each other, his head tilted slightly upward. The wounds to the victim’s hands told me he had put up a struggle, knowing that death was inevitable, yet he had wanted to live all the way to the end. But it wasn’t enough. It often never was.
The lack of blood told me the victim wasn’t killed here, and other than a nude body covered in wounds and dried blood, like strokes from a brush, with his hands pointed toward the sky, there were no other obvious signatures. His head was shaved with only a small area of stubble on his chin. His height and weight fell in the average region, his eyes were black, and his lips formed a permanent grimace. He had defensive wounds on both his wrists and the back of his hands, and his skin was as white as a first-floor apartment.
“Who’s the victim?” I asked.
“Victim’s name is unknown, until we run some tests,” the ME said. “Other than being male, and probably between thirty-five and forty years old, I’m out of guesses.”
Addie Ferguson, the ME, had a knack for guessing ages, along with her serious attention to detail. A short woman, with a few extra pounds she could never seem to get rid of, she preferred ankle-length skirts, black boots, and blue blouses.
“Have we got a time of death?”
Addie stood up, smoothing out her skirt before flipping her hair over her right shoulder. “We have a timeframe.”
“What is it?”
Nelson opened his mouth and closed it again. She glared at him, hard enough for him to puff up like a blow fish.
“Between twelve and two,” she said.
“Who discovered the body?”
“We’re speaking with her now,” Nelson said.
“I’d like to talk with her.”
“This ain’t your deal, Luke, so why don’t you just take a walk?” He made a running motion with his hands before he glanced at Addie. “It’d make things easier for all of us. Let the real men do the heavy lifting.”
I ignored his comment. “How long have you been here?”
“Long enough to know we won’t get much.” Addie tapped a finger in her palm and her right foot on the concrete. “The body was transported here, most likely via a vehicle, possibly an SUV. No suspicious vehicles were seen leaving the scene, so I’m inclined to revise my timeframe to the first hour, instead of the second. The victim might have been tortured for hours, but the only way I’ll know for sure is when I examine the body. It’s not the usual death-and-torture act. The defensive wounds, the lacerations. Then there’s the hands above the head, the supplication, the nakedness, the public display–”
I shook my head, shoving my sleep deprivation and cobwebs aside. “Please inform me after you make positive ID.”
She nodded and crouched down, continuing her work on the body, and made a few notations in her notepad.
I started walking, before I tossed Nelson and his smirk through one of the glass doors. I’d spent most of my life walking away–each step a little easier than the last, the distance both comforting and hopeful. The past caught up with me, just not in the manner I had originally planned. If I wasn’t careful, I just might succeed.
I passed dark store windows, heading toward the opposite end of the mall, where The Pavilion awaited me, an outdoor venue where Dave Matthews Band had once performed. The open-air atmosphere provided a sense of quiet from the crowded chaos of reality and red brick. Before I reached my destination, I passed two cops chatting and smoking away from the scene, talking about college basketball and how many teams the ACC would take to the Big Dance.
What struck me about the scene was the immediacy of it. Just a few hours later and the downtown mall would open for business, crawling with pedestrian traffic, since cars weren’t allowed on the main through street. The thought of a six-year-old seeing what had been splayed out before us had me questioning the sanity of our perp. Or maybe he wanted to send us a message. What it entailed, though, I had no idea. But I did know that if I wasn’t careful, our perp would strike again.
© 2017 by Robert Downs