This is New Orleans - 1981. Police Detective Dino LaStanza's first week in Homicide and he must handle the horrific murder of Marie Sumner, slashed to death on a quiet French Quarter street. LaStanza and his partner Mark Land work long, frustrating hours with no results.
When another woman is slashed to death along Bayou St. John, the detectives bear witness to the carnage again. LaStanza feels even worse this time, almost useless. The media labels the killer 'The Slasher' and when he strikes a third time - murdering the daughter of a wealthy banker - LaStanza meets a young woman who changes his life.
Lizette Marie Louvier is an alluring, intelligent young woman, a dark haired, uptown beauty beyond LaStanza's reach and yet the attraction between the two is undeniable.
The unrelenting pressure in the Homicide Pressure Cooker grows as LaStanza and his partners track a monstrous killer through the dark streets of the murder capitol of the U.S., hoping they can catch him before he kills again.
Sometimes I think O'Neil De Noux's first love is New Orleans. He writes about that city with such fervor that I've fallen in love with it too. His LaStanza mystery novels vividly portray the difficulties of policing a city that gets thousands of tourists weekly. Set in 1981, Grim Reaper starts the series, showing us a city before Hurricane Katrina, a city that still seems familiar, even today. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"De Noux's own experience as a police officer and his intimate knowledge of the Big Easy's residents, neighborhoods and cemeteries make for compelling stories, both gritty and humane."– Entertainment Weekly Magazine
"De Noux is the real deal."– New Orleans Times-Picayune
"O'Neil De Noux tells marvelous, compelling lies adrench with the presence and personality of a very particular place … New Orleans."– James Sallis
I felt asleep in the gazebo as we waited for the chief. Lt. Mason woke me a little after six thirty. I rubbed my eyes and looked over at the lagoon. She wasn't there. Mason tapped my shoulder and pointed toward Exposition Boulevard to a man standing in front of the Louvier mansion. There was a uniformed officer pacing in front of the mansion, a tall man without hat. I could see his full head of gray hair. Mason did not have to say anything. I knew it was the man with the upside down badge.
Only one man wore his star-and-crescent police badge upside down and that was the Chief. It was an old tradition, started long ago when all the star-and-crescent badges were alike, before numbers were put on them. The Chief was the man who stood apart from the others. He wore his badge upside down.
Our Chief was a native son who had worked his way up through the ranks. He name was Sal Rosata and there was a long scar on the right side of his dark olive-skinned face, which looked even darker under the full mat of gray hair. He was a tall man who stood a full head taller than Mason, a burly man with muscular arms that protruded from his short-sleeved police shirt. His dark face wore an ugly expression that morning. I could see it from fifty feet away and it didn't look any prettier as I got closer.
"Were you sleeping over there?" the Chief scowled at me as I stepped up.
"No sir," I answered, "I was thinking."
The Chief almost smiled but caught himself. He narrowed his eyes and stared real hard at me.
"Just like your old man" – the Chief sighed – "smart ass wop." He should talk. Rosata was a big a dago name as LaStanza. And he was, literally, a far bigger wop, and he knew it. The Chief looked at Mason and ordered, "Show me where it happened."
I followed them to the dwarf palms and the big bloodstain and the clumps of grass chewed up in the struggle. Mason then led the Chief to where the assailant had dragged her from the boulevard. "See how he dragged her over the palms." Mason pointed out the marks in the grass.
"She put up a helluva fight," the Chief muttered, half under his breath. He looked around at the houses and asked, "Any witnesses?"
"Nope," Mason answered as he lit another cigarette.
The Chief turned away quickly and started back toward the mansion.
"Come on, let's get this over with." He shook his head as he walked. "The Louviers have other children."
Mason said, "They've got a son who goes to Holy Name of Jesus School, and another daughter, who's in college up north."
The Chief nodded and said, "I know Mr. Louvier. Nice fella. Never met the family. This is bad, real fuckin' bad." He opened the iron gate of the mansion and then looked back at me. "So you're the case officer, huh?"
I nodded again.
The Chief glanced at Mason's chiseled expressionless face and then looked at me. "How's your Pop?" the Chief asked me.
"Fine," I answered, "drinking and fishing."
"And your momma?"
"She's fine, too."
"Good," the Chief said, "Tell 'em I said hello. I been meaning to see them, but I been busy and, you know. Just tell 'em I asked about 'em, okay?"
"Yes, sir," I answered as he turned and started up the stairs of the Louvier mansion.
There are things in my childhood I remember vividly, as if a tape recorder existed in my mind. Sometimes I can hit the rewind button and play it all back, like the night we thought my father was killed. A rookie patrolman named Rosata was driving my father that night, when their patrol car skidded out of control during a high-speed chase. The car flipped over into the Palmetto Canal. Rosata came out with a deep cut on his face, but my father didn't come up. Rosata went back down but couldn't find him.
I remember the men at my front door and my mother crying. I wasn't until day light that they found my father. He had come up all right and started swimming. But just like a dumb wop, he swam lengthwise in the long canal that was only about fifty feet wide. He finally crawled out of the water near the Jefferson Parish line. Then he passed out on the concrete wall. That was how our Chief got the scar on his face and my father received his first Dumb Wop Of The Month award. There was also a Dumb Mick of the Month award, both dating back to the turn of the century.
A man with deep-set eyes greeted us at the front door of the Louvier's. He was a distinguished-looking man in a black pinstripe suit. His face was composed and his voice firm as he spoke, but his eyes gave him away. Those deep-set eyes were filled with a sadness I've seen before. It was a sadness that cannot be hidden, cannot be relieved, even with time. It was a sadness that just hides with time, but never goes away.
I've seen that sadness in my father's eyes some years back when we buried my brother in St. Patrick's Cemetery one autumn day. I can see that sadness in my mirror sometimes. You can hide it but it never goes away.
When we stepped into the house, Mr. Louvier pulled the Chief aside and asked Mason and I to step into a room across the foyer from the living room. Mason followed me into a dark, cool room. It took a couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and to see that we were in a library. The Chief leaned inside the room a moment later and asked Mason to join him in the foyer. They closed the door and I was left alone in the dark library.
I stood looking around the room. I could see the rear wall was covered with books, floor to ceiling, and so was the wall across from the door. The only light peeking into the room slipped through a crack in the long silken drapes along the French doors of the front wall, which faced the gallery and the sunny park outside. My eyes followed the sliver of sunlight as it streamed across the room illuminating tiny particles in the air that made the light look like a thick beam of sterling silver.
The air was cool in the library and that made me feel my exhaustion that much more. So I stepped over to a large easy chair in the middle of the room and sank heavily into it. The chair faced a fireplace along the wall next to the door to the foyer.
As I sat, my eyes followed the sliver of sunlight to its destination above the mantel of the fireplace. The light fell across a large portrait, a portrait of Lynette. I leaned back in the soft easy chair and studied the painting. The girl in the portrait wore a white gown that was low-cut and draped over her shoulders. She looked like a painting I'd once seen of a Greek goddess, her hair long, dark brown with a hint of red highlights.
She looked so young in the painting and so alive. Her neck was smooth and white, like alabaster against the dark background of the painting. Her lips were full and unsmiling, but not pouting either. Her face had an expression of confidence and beauty and full of emotion. Her red lips looked, moist.
"Must be the sunlight on the shiny oil," I told myself.
He eyes were large and sad. They stared at me. And I knew, that if I rose, those eyes would follow me. It was on of those paintings where the eyes follow you. No matter where you move in a room, the eyes follow you. She was very pretty indeed in the portrait. And it made me feel that worse as I continued to stare back at her, tracing the outline of her face with my eyes as the long dagger of light fell across the vivid colors of the painting.
It pained my heart to look at her. This was a great New Orleans beauty, a dark haired brunette daughter of the city, a face sweet and gorgeous, wide eyes and full, sensuous lips. And she was gone.
For a moment, my mind flashed back with cruel realism to the scene from the autopsy. So I closed my eyes to shut it all out. I could feel my arms slowly sliding down the sided of the easy chair. I remember thinking I would rest a minute, but soon the easy breathing came and. I dreamed.
I dreamt I heard a noise in the room but my eyes would not open. They were too heavy to open. I struggled, and finally my eyes opened to an unfocused vision, of someone moving in the room, in slow motion. I felt myself lean forward as a girl moved in the room. She moved to the painting and then turned slowly to me. Those same sad eyes from the portrait met my eyes. It was the girl from the portrait, it was Lynette, standing beneath the portrait and looking at me as I rose sleepily from the easy chair.
As she faced me, the dagger of sunlight fell on her face and her eyes looked like dark gold gemstones staring at me. A moment later those topaz eyes became misty with tears that began to roll down her small round cheeks and I realized I wasn't dreaming.
"You're alive," I heard myself saying to the girl crying in front of me.
She quickly brushed away the tears from her face and in a quivering voice asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm a detective."
"What are you doing here?" she asked as more tears rolled down her cheeks. I could not answer. She tried to compose herself and in a voice somewhat deeper she said, "I'm Lizette, Lizette Louvier. Who are you?'
I fell back into the chair and tried to clear my thoughts. I remember shaking my head quickly, as if that could straighten out the mess in my mind, as if that could clear it all. Twins. I thought to myself.
She looked back at the painting and something snapped in m mind as I realized this was all real. Positively no dream or hallucination. This was real. Suddenly I was very awake. I rose again from the chair and told her my name and fumbled in my coat pocket for my credentials. I handed my badge and I.D. to her. She took them and stared at my I.D. for a long time. Her lower lip began to tremble as she tried to hold on to whatever composure she had left, but there was no stopping the tears that streamed down her face.
"I didn't know Lynette had a twin," I told her.
She handed my credentials back to me and turned again to the painting. Through trembling lips she told me how she had just gotten off a plane and, as an afterthought, she whispered something about Brown University.
I looked back at the painting, traced again the fine delicate lines of the beautiful face.
"Is it Lynette or you?" I knew it was a dumb question as soon as I asked it.
"I didn't know anyone was in here," she said.
The room seemed to become stuffy, growing hotter by the moment. I watched her staring at the painting and I felt a shiver race up my back to the base of my neck and back down again. I could feel sweat on my forehead and in my palms. Part of me wanted to fade away and leave this girl alone, but another part of me wanted to stay with her. I could not stop staring at her, at those lines of that pretty face. She was a small girl, about 5 foot 2, with straight dark brown hair that ended at her shoulders in a curl. She wore a dark brown jacket and skirt, with a neat high-collared white shirt. She looked exactly the way a rich uptown daughter of old French Creole blood should look, beautiful and aristocratic.
After a while I could see her composing herself as she stood more erect. She spoke to me in a stronger voice, "My mother told me that you have been working on this killer," she almost choked on the word, but continued, "for over a month." She turned to me with narrowed eyes. I nodded in response to her statement and felt the room becoming insufferably not.
"Why haven't you stopped him?" She asked in a voice barely audible over the deep sob that followed. She choked back the sob and asked, "What have you done?" Her eyes were filled with pain. I looked back at her and felt the knot in my stomach stab me.
"You're useless," she cried in a voice that cut right through me. "Useless!" she repeated as she turned and hurried from the room. I started to follow, but stopped myself. She slammed the door shut and ran into the foyer. A few seconds later the Chief stuck his head into the room and snapped at me, "Taking a break LaStanza?"
"Then get out here."
He led me into a large dining room and made quiet and quick introductions around the table where Mr. and Mrs. Louvier sat. There was a priest present and a doctor and several attorneys. I sat next to Mason as the Chief told them about how we would leave no stone unturned, spare no expense.
Then Mason spoke. He told them everything we'd done so far, and managed to get in a question about where Lynette had been that night. Mr. Louvier explained Lynette was coming home from an evening class at Loyola University. I wrote it down. Then Mr. Louvier gave the Chief a list of Lynette's girlfriends and boyfriends. She was a popular girl.
I tried to catch anything that was said that was important, but I could not stop thinking about Lizette and about what she'd called me – 'Useless'. The word worked on my mind and my stomach.
Mason had to ask me twice before I heard his question about the autopsy. "He's pretty exhausted," Mason explained as he finally got my attention. The Chief was glaring at me with the same look my father used to give me.
"Yes – " I hesitated as I gathered my thoughts. Then I gave them a brief account of the autopsy. Mr. Louvier was not satisfied. He was a tough fella and asked me outright about the wounds. I hesitated in case Mason or the Chief wanted to step in, but when they didn't I told him everything, about the one hundred and twenty-one wounds, about the twenty-five potentially fatal wounds, and about the defensive wounds on the bottom of her feet. I could see the color drain from Mr. Louvier's face as he slumped back in his chair. A doctor escorted Mrs. Louvier out of the room. And shortly after, the interview was thankfully ended.
On the way out, the Chief gruffly told me to go home and get some rest. "Then I expect you to work your ass off."
I was the case officer. We would work the case as a team and put in the long hours as a team, but it was my case. I was responsible for solving it. I wasn't supposed to let it become a personal thing, but how could I not? It was a very personal thing, because her death belonged to me now. Her life was hers, her body was now the mortician's, and her casket would soon belong to the cemetery, but her death was mine.
I was the case officer and I knew I would never do anything as important as this for the rest of my life. And I knew I was never going to give up, not ever. I wanted this murderer so fucking badly.
I was so tired when I got home, all I did was fall into bed. I closed my eyes but my mind wouldn't let go. I kept hearing those words echoing in my mind.
"You're useless," she said. Those agonizing eyes had asked me why I had not caught him, and what could I say to those eyes?