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  • Written by James Swain
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A Novel of Suspense

Written by James SwainAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by James Swain


List Price: $7.99


On Sale: December 26, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-50241-4
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
Midnight Rambler Cover

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mystery (11) fiction (9) florida (6) thriller (5)
mystery (11) fiction (9) florida (6) thriller (5)


Explosive. Pulse-pounding. Heart-racing. From the bestselling author The Wall Street Journal hails as “one terrific writer,” Midnight Rambler is the breakout thriller of the year–a brawny, brainy novel of suspense that pairs James Swain’s trademark smooth-as-silk prose with a plot bigger and bolder than anything he’s done before.

In South Florida, Jack Carpenter is infamous. He’s the cop who busted the notorious serial killer Simon Skell–aka the Midnight Rambler–and sacrificed his badge and marriage in the process. Haunted by the Skell case, Carpenter now works as an abduction specialist in Fort Lauderdale, reuniting families with their missing children.

But the body of one of the Midnight Rambler’s victims has just been uncovered–and forensic evidence suggests Carpenter jailed the wrong man. With Skell just days away from release, the tarnished hero must reopen the case that shattered his life and the lives of eight murdered women.

As waves of heat and rain wash over the steamy streets, Carpenter races against the clock to reaffirm the case against Skell. Yet the deeper he digs, the more he starts to realize that Skell is just one piece in a terrifying puzzle of predation and murder, just one player in a shocking conspiracy that ranges across the state of Florida. And as the relentless Carpenter draws the net tighter, his enemies prepare to spring a devastating final surprise.

From the seaside bar that Jack Carpenter calls home to the glittering tourist kingdom in Orlando to the funky jungle of Coconut Grove, James Swain unleashes a wild ride into the heart of evil–with the Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Rambler” as the throbbing, terrifying soundtrack.

From the Hardcover edition.



My cell phone awoke me from a deep sleep. I didn’t get a lot of calls. Especially in the middle of the night. Opening my eyes, I stared into the darkness of my rented room. Hanging on the ceiling above my head were the smiling faces of my wife and daughter. They were like after-images of my former life, and they filled me with sadness. Lifting my arm, I tried to touch them, only to watch them melt away. My phone continued to ring. Grabbing it off the night table, I stared at its face. Caller ID showed a 305 area code, which was Miami/Dade County. The only people I knew in Dade were cops. I decided to answer. “Carpenter here.”

“Jack, this is Tommy Gonzalez. Sorry to wake you up.”

“What time is it?”

“Six in the morning. I’m in a jam, Jack. I wouldn’t have called you otherwise.”

Tommy ran the Missing Persons Division of the Miami/Dade Police Department and had gotten his training under me during a stint he did in Broward. Although he was only a few years my junior, I still considered him a kid.

“I’m listening,” I said.

“We lost a newborn at Mercy Hospital this morning,” Tommy said.

A knifelike pain stabbed my gut. “Abduction?”

“That’s what it looks like. I need help. Are you available?”

“I’m giving testimony at a homicide trial tomorrow. I’m supposed to be spending the day preparing for it.”

“Is this about the Midnight Rambler?” Tommy asked.

Another pain jabbed my gut, this one much deeper. The Midnight Rambler was my last case as a detective, and it had ruined both my career and my personal life. Each day I awoke wondering if I’d ever escape its dark shadow.

“No, this is another murder case,” I said. “I can come down and help you, but I can’t stay all day.”

“That’s fantastic,” Tommy said. “What’s your going rate these days?”

I was wide awake now, and I propped my back against the wall, which was cool against my bare flesh. My rent was due next week, and I was flat broke.

“Four hundred and fifty bucks,” I said.

“How’d you come up with that figure?”

“Need. Now tell me what happened.”

“Baby was born yesterday, name’s Isabella Marie Vasquez. Parents are a couple of well-known architects, built those fancy downtown skyscrapers that look like giant kid’s toys. Isabella got fed at four a.m. and was gone from her crib when a nurse checked fifteen minutes later. None of the other newborns in the maternity ward were touched. I sent my best investigator, and she combed the ward and interviewed the nursing staff, doctors, and cleaning people. No one saw anything, heard anything, or knows anything.”

“Think it’s an inside job?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Tommy said, sounding exasperated. “Mercy is one of the best hospitals in south Florida. I go there every year with a group from NCMEC, and we lecture the staff and administrators on how to lessen the likelihood of an abduction. When it comes to protecting babies, they know their stuff.”

“So they’ve hardened the target.”


NCMEC, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, had done more to prevent child abductions than any other grassroots organization in the country. They lectured school and hospital staffs on how to make children safe, or what they called hardening the target. I didn’t like the sound of what Tommy had described, and climbed out of bed. My dog, sleeping beside me, got up as well.

“I’m leaving right now,” I said. “Depending on traffic, I should be there within the hour.”

“Park in the back and come through the emergency door,” Tommy said.

From the Hardcover edition.
James Swain|Author Q&A

About James Swain

James Swain - Midnight Rambler

Photo © Robert Allen Sargent, CCP

James Swain, winner of the prestigious Prix Calibre 38 for Best American Crime Fiction, is the bestselling author of nine previous novels. He lives with his wife, Laura, in Florida, where he is currently at work on his next novel.

Author Q&A

Q:. What is MIDNIGHT RAMBLER about?

A: MIDNIGHT RAMBLER is the story about an ex-cop named Jack Carpenter who’s been forced to resign from his job because he beat up a serial killer named Simon Skell, the Midnight Rambler. When the book starts, the case against Skell is unraveling, and Carpenter is doing everything he can to keep Skell in prison.

Q: You’ve set the story in Florida. How does the setting lend to the mood and plot?

A: I’ve lived in Florida for the past 25 years and always wanted to write a book which captured the unique flavor of the state. On one hand, it’s a tropical paradise. On the other, it’s filled with horrible killers and crime. I can’t think of anywhere else that functions with such extremes.

Q: Did the Rolling Stones’ song “Midnight Rambler” inspire the story, or did you come up with the story first and then find the song that fit it?

A: I was reading a law enforcement case investigation guide about paraphilias, which are psychosexual disorders involving reoccurring fantasies that are common with serial killers. It made me think of the Rolling Stone’s “Midnight Rambler”, which is a homage to the Boston Strangler, a famous serial killer in the 1960s. I thought it would be interesting to write a novel about a serial killer that’s obsessed with this song. That led me to watch the documentary Gimme Shelter which chronicles the Stone’s infamous outdoor concert at Altamonte Speedway where a black man is murdered in front of the band while they’re playing their set. The movie also features the song, which plays an important part in the novel.

Q: Describe your main character, Jack Carpenter.

A: Jack Carpenter is an ex-cop. Before his fall from grace, Carpenter ran the Missing Person’s Unit of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department. In the novel Jack is living above a seedy beach bar and struggling to get his life back together.

Q: Jack Carpenter has a very special relationship with his dog. What does this relationship say about Jack’s character?

A: Jack’s dog is an Australian Shepherd named Buster who Jack has rescued from the pound after his wife walks out on him. Buster is what vets call a potential fear-biter — he’ll bite you if he thinks you’re going to harm him. Buster adores Jack and a handful of his friends, and hates the rest of the world. In many ways, Jack and his dog are very much alike.

Q: Did you model the Midnight Rambler or his crimes after any real-life cases or murderers?

A: The Midnight Rambler was modeled after a notorious serial killer named Oscar Ray Bolin, who lived a few miles from my home. Bolin was handsome, charming, and very efficient. He was, and continues to be, a master of manipulating the system from behind bars. A law enforcement officer I know described him as a “killing machine.”

Q: What research did you do into law enforcement, missing persons cases, and the serial killer psyche to write this book?

A: Several years ago, I happened to meet a real-life abduction specialist. Over lunch, I asked him to explain what he did. He told me to forget everything I’d seen on TV or read in the papers about the subject. He then gave me an education in finding missing people and capturing their abductors, which include sexual predators and serial killers. It’s been a fascinating experience.

Q: In your story, the killer uses the media to complicate the case for Jack. Can you tell us about this?

A: Bolin’s case influenced this portion of the book. Bolin worked the local media so well that they treated him like a rock star and included flattering pictures in the paper. A woman in the spectator gallery developed a crush on Bolin and later married him.

Q: Do you think that media reporting skews the outcome of criminal cases, in general?

A: That’s hard to say. However, I do know that the media often impedes law enforcement’s ability to find missing people.

Q: A frightening child abduction scene takes place at Disney World. Why did you set this scene there?

A: In the early 1990s I heard about a thwarted child abduction at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. I spoke to a Disney employee I knew and was absolutely chilled by what I was told. I wanted to show my readers how vulnerable small children are, even in places as safe as Disney.

Q: In what ways is Midnight Rambler a departure from your other popular crime novels.

A: My first seven books are mysteries. Although Midnight Rambler has an ex-cop at its central character, it’s was written as a thriller.

Q: Jack Carpenter is an abduction specialist. Was there a reason behind making him this?

A: I had a family member who was abducted and I grew up hearing stories. When I learned that there were individuals who specialized in finding missing people, I decided to learn more.

Q: What effect would you like Midnight Rambler to have on readers?

A: I hope they have a hell of a time reading the book.

From the Hardcover edition.



Praise for James Swain and Midnight Rambler

“Midnight Rambler is a heavy hitter, fast and spare. Travis McGee meets Philip Marlow.”
–Randy Wayne White, author of Hunter’s Moon

“Moves like a bullet train on overdrive . . . I tore through this one without putting on the brakes. I guarantee you will, too!”
–Michael Connelly

“Midnight Rambler kept me up all night long, and Jack Carpenter is as appealing a hero as I’ve ever met. The only problem with Swain’s riveting thrillers is they end.”
–Tess Gerritsen, author of The Bone Garden

“Swain is one terrific writer.”
–The Wall Street Journal

From the Hardcover edition.
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Midnight Rambler by James Swain

  • Midnight Rambler by James Swain
  • August 26, 2008
  • Fiction - Mystery & Detective
  • Ballantine Books
  • $7.99
  • 9780345475473

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