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The Rosary Girls

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A Novel

Written by Richard MontanariAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Richard Montanari



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On Sale: February 15, 2005
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-48203-7
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In his sleek, visceral novels Deviant Way, Kiss of Evil, and The Violet Hour, Richard Montanari slammed into the suspense field like a force of nature. Now Montanari has written an astounding novel that pits two besieged detectives against a fiercely intelligent serial killer.

Sprawling beneath the statue of William Penn, Philadelphia is a city of downtrodden crack houses and upscale brownstones. Somewhere in this concrete crazy quilt, one teenage Catholic girl is writing in her diary, another is pouring her heart out to a friend, and yet another is praying. And somewhere in this city is a man who wants these young women to make his macabre fantasy become reality. In a passion play of his own, he will take the girls–and a whole city–over the edge.

Kevin Byrne is a veteran cop who already knows that edge: He’s been living on it far too long. His marriage failing, his former partner wasting away in a hospital, and his heart lost to mad fury, Byrne loves to take risks and is breaking every rule in the book. And now he has been given a rookie partner. Jessica Balzano, the daughter of a famous Philly cop, doesn’t want Byrne’s help. But they will need each other desperately, since they’ve just caught the case of a lifetime: Someone is killing devout young women, bolting their hands together in prayer, and committing an abomination upon their otherwise perfect bodies.

Byrne and Balzano spearhead the hunt for the serial killer, who leads them on a methodically planned journey. Suspects appear before them like bad dreams–and vanish just as quickly. And while Byrne’s sins begin to catch up with him, and Balzano tries to solve the blood-splattered puzzle, the body count rises. Meanwhile, the calendar is approaching Easter and the day of the resurrection. When the last rosary is counted, a madman’s methods will be revealed, and the final crime will be the one that hurts the most.

Relentlessly paced and vividly told, The Rosary Girls is a smart, emotionally complex, fiercely gripping thriller from an author who takes chances, breaks new ground, and leaves readers haunted and moved long after the last page is turned.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Palm Sunday, 11:55 PM

There is a wintry sadness about this one, a deep-rooted melancholy that belies her seventeen years, a laugh that never fully engages any sort of inner joy.

Perhaps there is none.

You see them all the time on the street; the one walking alone, books clutched tightly to her breast, eyes cast earthward, ever adrift in thought. She is the one strolling a few paces behind the other girls, content to accept the rare morsel of friendship tossed her way. The one who baby-sits her way through all the milestones of adolescence. The one who refuses her beauty, as if it were elective.

Her name is Tessa Ann Wells.

She smells like fresh-cut flowers.

“I cannot hear you,” I say.

“. . . lordaswiddee,” comes the tiny voice from the chapel. It sounds as if I have awakened her, which is entirely possible. I took her early Friday morning, and it is now nearly midnight on Sunday. She has been praying in the chapel, more or less nonstop.

It is not a formal chapel, of course, merely a converted closet, but it is outfitted with everything one needs for reflection and prayer.

“This will not do,” I say. “You know that it is paramount to derive meaning from each and every word, don’t you?”

From the chapel: “Yes.”

“Consider how many people around the world are praying at this very moment. Why should God listen to those who are insincere?”

“No reason.”

I lean closer to the door. “Would you want the Lord to show you this sort of contempt on the day of rapture?”

“No.”

“Good,” I reply. “What decade?”

It takes a few moments for her to answer. In the darkness of the chapel, one must proceed by feel.

Finally, she says: “Third.”

“Begin again.”

I light the remainder of the votives. I finish my wine. Contrary to what many believe, the rites of the sacraments are not always solemn undertakings, but rather are, many times, cause for joy and celebration.

I am just about to remind Tessa when, with clarity and eloquence and import, she begins to pray once more:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. . . .”

Is there a sound more beautiful than a virgin at prayer?

“Blessed art thou amongst women. . . .”

I glance at my watch. It is just after midnight.

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. . . .”

It is time.

“Holy Mary, mother of God. . . .”

I take the hypodermic from its case. The needle gleams in the candlelight. The Holy Spirit is here.

“Pray for us sinners. . . .”

The Passion has begun.

“Now and at the hour of our death. . . .”

I open the door, and step into the chapel.

Amen.


Part One

Monday, 3:05 AM

There is an hour known intimately to all who rouse to meet it, a time when darkness sheds fully the cloak of twilight and the streets fall still and silent, a time when shadows convene, become one, dissolve. A time when those who suffer disbelieve the dawn.

Every city has its quarter, its neon Golgotha.

In Philadelphia, it is known as South Street.

This night, while most of the City of Brotherly Love slept, while the rivers flowed mutely to the sea, the flesh peddler rushed down South Street like a dry, blistering wind. Between Third and Fourth Streets he pushed through a wrought iron gate, walked down a narrow alleyway and entered a private club called Paradise. The handful of patrons scattered about the room met his gaze, then immediately averted their eyes. In the peddler’s stare they saw a portal to their own blackened souls, and knew that if they engaged him, even for a moment, the understanding would be far too much to bear.

To those who knew his trade, the peddler was an enigma, but not a puzzle anyone was eager to solve.

He was a big man, well over six feet tall, with a broad carriage and large, coarse hands that promised reckoning to those who crossed him. He had wheat-colored hair and cold green eyes, eyes that would spark to bright cobalt in candlelight, eyes that could take in the horizon with one glance, missing nothing. Above his right eye was a shiny keloid scar, a ridge of ropy tissue in the shape of an inverted v. He wore a long, black leather coat that strained against the thick muscles in his back.

He had come to the club five nights in a row now, and this night he would meet his buyer. Appointments were not easily made at Paradise. Friendships were unknown.

The peddler sat at the back of the dank, basement room, at a table that, although not reserved for him, had become his by default. Even though Paradise was settled with players of every dark stripe and pedigree, it was clear that the peddler was of another breed.

The speakers behind the bar offered Mingus, Miles, Monk; the ceiling: soiled Chinese lanterns and rotary fans covered in wood-grain contact paper. Cones of blueberry incense burned, wedding the cigarette smoke, graying the air with a raw, fruity sweetness.

At three-ten, two men entered the club. One was the buyer; the other, his guardian. They both met the eyes of the peddler. And knew.

The buyer, whose name was Gideon Pratt, was a squat, balding man in his late fifties, with flushed cheeks, restless gray eyes and jowls which hung like melted wax. He wore an ill-fitting three-piece suit and had fingers long-gnarled by arthritis. His breath was fetid. His teeth, ocher and spare.

Behind him walked a bigger man—bigger even than the peddler. He wore mirrored sunglasses and a denim duster. His face and neck were ornamented with an elaborate web of ta moko, the Maori tribal tattoos.

Without a word, the three men gathered, then walked down a short hallway to a supply room.

The back room at Paradise was cramped and hot, packed with boxes of off-brand liquor, a pair of scarred metal desks and a mildewed, ragged sofa. An old jukebox flickered carbon blue light.

Once in the room, door closed, the large man, who went by the street name of Diablo, roughly patted down the peddler for weapons and wires, attempting to establish a stratum of power. As he was doing this, the peddler noted the three-word tattoo at the base of Diablo’s neck. It read: Mongrel for Life. He also noticed the butt of a chrome Smith and Wesson revolver in the large man’s waistband.

Satisfied that the peddler was unarmed, and wore no listening devices, Diablo stepped away, behind Pratt, crossed his arms and observed.

“What do you have for me?” Pratt asked.

The peddler considered the man before answering him. They had reached the moment that occurs in every transaction, the instant when the purveyor must come clean and lay his wares upon the velvet. The peddler reached slowly into his leather coat—there would be no furtive moves here—and removed a pair of Polaroid pictures. He handed them to Gideon Pratt.

Both photographs were of fully clothed, precociously posed teenaged black girls. The one called Tanya sat on the front stoop of her row house, blowing a kiss to the photographer. Pink and white streamers cascaded from the handlebar grips. Alicia, her sister, vamped on the beach in Wildwood.

As Pratt scrutinized the photos, his cheeks flared crimson for a moment, his breath hitched in his chest.

“Just . . . beautiful,” he said.

Diablo glanced at the photos, registering no reaction. He turned his gaze back to the peddler.

“What is her name?” Pratt asked, holding up one of the photos.

“Tanya,” the peddler replied.

“Tan-ya,” Pratt repeated, separating the syllables, as if to sort the essence of the girl. He handed one of the pictures back, then glanced at the photograph in his hand. “She is adorable,” he added. “A mischievous one. I can tell.”

Pratt touched the photograph, running his finger gently over the glossy surface. He seemed to drift for a moment, lost in some reverie, then put the picture into his pocket. He snapped back to the moment, back to the business at hand. “When?”

“Now,” the peddler replied.

Pratt reacted with surprise and delight. He had not expected this. “She is here?”

The peddler nodded.

“Where?” asked Pratt.

“Nearby.” Gideon Pratt straightened his tie, adjusted the vest over his bulging stomach, smoothed what little hair he had. He took a deep breath, finding his axis, then gestured to the door. “Shall we?”

The peddler nodded again, then looked to Diablo for permission. Diablo waited a moment, further cementing his status, then stepped to the side.


From the Hardcover edition.
Richard Montanari|Author Q&A

About Richard Montanari

Richard Montanari - The Rosary Girls

Photo © David Najfach

Richard Montanari is a novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and scores of other national and regional publications. He is the OLMA- winning author of the internationally acclaimed thrillers Merciless, The Skin Gods, The Rosary Girls, Kiss of Evil, Deviant Way, and The Violet Hour.

Author Q&A

An Interview with Richard Montanari
Author of THE ROSARY GIRLS

Question: THE ROSARY GIRLS is about a serial killer with a deep religious psychosis. What was your inspiration for the book?

Richard Montanari: I was raised Catholic at a time when Vatican II was just taking hold. A lot of the masses were still being offered in Latin and I think there was a mystery to the rites and sacraments that is missing now. I was thinking one day about how important mystery is to faith, and I wondered what something like the Sorrowful Mysteries might mean to an unstable mind, and who might be the innocent victims. The Agony in the Garden, the Scourge at the Pillar, the Crown of Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion. These are powerful visual and emotional images.

Q: Have there been any actual cases like this?
RM:
In doing my research, I did not run across a case exactly like the one in the book, but as you might imagine, I did find plenty of deranged behavior committed in the name of religion.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the book?
RM: I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia (the setting for THE ROSARY GIRLS). Philly is a city made up of many neighborhoods – more than a hundred, in fact – and the citizens can be very territorial. It is also a city in transition, a lot of building, a lot of change. It has some of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas, and some of the most devastated urban blight I have ever seen. Quite often these areas are right next to each other. I also spent a good deal of time with the Philadelphia Police Department. The homicide division is one of the best and busiest units in the country. Although my main characters Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are not based on any single individuals, they are composites of some of the dedicated detectives I met on the PPD. Believe me, although I really like the show, the reality of Philly Homicide is nothing like CBS’s Cold Case.
In addition, I spent a good deal of time at the forensic crime lab. The Crime Scene Unit of the PPD is nationally known and highly respected. They were very generous with their time and advice. Give these people a drop of evidence and they will track you down.

Q: You’ve written the killer in THE ROSARY GIRLS from the first person point of view. Why did you make this narrative choice, and was it difficult?
RM:
I’ve never written an entire novel in first person. Although I think it is an effective tool in crime fiction – especially the private eye novel – I always felt it would be too confining for my style. I usually have three or four points of view in my work. In THE ROSARY GIRLS, I thought it would be interesting to unfold the killer’s pathology through his own thoughts, in present tense, as the book progressed. And because the story is a whodunit, the challenge for the reader would be to divine the identity externally, while being privy to the innermost thoughts of a sociopath. I admit it’s a difficult task, but I have great editors who keep me honest.

Q: Your protagonists are about as different as they can be. Jessica Balzano is a single mother of a three year old, new to the homicide unit. Kevin Byrne is a rather soul-damaged veteran. Where did they come from?

RM: It was always my intention to write a series, and as I did my research, I learned a great deal in a short period of time. When I was writing the book I thought, why not create a character who could take my hand and lead me through the anxiety-ridden first days and weeks and months on the job as a homicide detective? Granted, Jessica is an eight-year veteran of the force, but she is new to this tribe called Homicide, and as she feels her way though the territorial makeup of the squad, I did too. As to Kevin Byrne, I wanted to create a character who has seen it all many times, and still believes.

Q: THE ROSARY GIRLS walks on the dark side of human nature. Why do you write about this?
RM: I’ve always been fascinated by accounts of seemingly “normal” people who have committed horrendous acts of cruelty and violence. You hear it on the news all the time. “He seemed like a nice guy. Very helpful. He dug me out of the snow last winter.” Then you find out he has a dozen prostitutes buried in his back yard. I like writing about these people just before they go deep end. What is a serial killer like at the bank? The dry cleaners? In church? Who is the guy sitting next to you on the bus?

Q: The dialogue in the book is very authentic. How did you learn to write the way people actually speak? What were the challenges of getting the Philadelphia jargon down?
RM:
This comes from years of writing magazine profiles. Over the years I have had to interview a lot of people, and, unfortunately, some of the time what they were talking about wasn’t very interesting. So, trusting my handy tape recorder to get the facts I needed, I would concentrate on the rhythms of their speech, their intonations, inflections and the emphasis they placed on words. As to Philly-speak, it was matter of getting into the rhythm and cadence of the city. Along with the regional characteristics. For instance, don’t call it a sub sandwich, it’s a hoagie. You don’t cut school, you bag school. Pop? Cola? Uh, no. It’s a soda.

Q: Why Philadelphia?
RM:
The simple answer is, I love the city. I have family there, and as a kid growing up in Ohio, we used to visit Philly every summer on the way to Wildwood. I remember thinking: Two rivers. How cool is that?

Q: Who are some of the writers who have influenced you?
RM:
Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, James Ellroy and Shirley Jackson come to mind. I’m equally influenced by filmmakers like David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Of the current crop of younger filmmakers I really like Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher. The first thing I notice in a book or a film is mood. Everything else follows.

Q: Speaking of mood, you’ve set a lot THE ROSARY GIRLS in the rain. Why?
RM: I spent a week in Philly last April, and it rained the entire time. On Easter Sunday I was in South Philly, watching the families heading to church in their bright new clothes. Lemon yellow dresses against the dirty red brick, all shrouded in mist. The contrast was very powerful. The antagonist in this book has a storm-ravaged soul. The decision made itself.

Q: How would you classify your work? Mystery? Thriller? Detective fiction?
RM:
That’s a tough one. I’ve written five novels now, and they all primarily fall into the whodunit category, insofar as there is a character walking among the other characters who turns out to be the killer. That said, I would probably not call my books detective fiction, because that connotes the private eye genre. Nor would I put it strictly into the police procedural category, even though four of the five books follow a police officer investigating a crime. I’d like to call the book a thriller, but I think that’s for the reader to decide. The tag on THE ROSARY GIRLS is “A Novel of Suspense.” I think, and hope, that is accurate.

Q: There are 7000 officers in the Philadelphia Police department. How do you think they will react to THE ROSARY GIRLS?

RM: Since they are all heavily armed, I hope they like it. I spent a good deal of time with the Homicide Unit, and they were very generous with their time when it came to answering my many questions. As were the officers of the Crime Scene Unit, even though the book is not heavy on the science. A few detectives vetted the final manuscript for procedural details, and pronounced the book authentic. It is equally important to me that the citizens of Philadelphia find the book true to their city. I invented a few Catholic schools, for obvious reasons, but I worked very hard on keeping all the other locations and venues genuine. Philadelphia is my adopted hometown now. As a newcomer, I hope the city embraces the book.

Q: You’ve published four thrillers. What’s in the future?
RM:
I’ve just completed The Skin Gods, the second book in the Philadelphia series. I’m planning to write at least one more book with these characters, then hopefully to write a standalone. I’m also polishing a pair of original screenplays. One is a supernatural thriller. The other is, believe it or not, a romantic comedy.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

Praise for The Rosary Girls

“The Rosary Girls is a well-written, fast-moving thriller with twists and turns galore that will keep you guessing until the end.”
–Phillip Margolin, author of Lost Lake

“Readers of this terrifying page-turner are in the hands of a master storyteller. Be prepared to stay up all night.”
–James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential

“A relentlessly suspenseful, soul-chilling thriller that hooks you instantly.”
–Tess Gerritsen


From the Hardcover edition.

  • The Rosary Girls by Richard Montanari
  • February 28, 2006
  • Fiction - Thrillers; Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $7.99
  • 9780345470966

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