The 9th Girl
#1 New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag brings back her fan-favorite Minneapolis investigators Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska in the haunting new thriller The 9th Girl.
"Kovac had seen more dead bodies than he could count: Men, women, children; victims of shootings, stabbings, strangulations, beatings; fresh corpses and bodies that had been left for days in the trunks of cars in the dead of summer. But he had never seen anything quite like this . . . "
On a frigid New Year's Eve in Minneapolis a young woman's brutalized body falls from the trunk of a car into the path of oncoming traffic. Questions as to whether she was alive or dead when she hit the icy pavement result in her macabre nickname, Zombie Doe. Unidentified and unidentifiable, she is the ninth nameless female victim of the year, and homicide detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska are charged with the task of not only finding out who Zombie Doe is, but who in her life hated her enough to destroy her. Was it personal, or could it just have been a crime of opportunity? Their greatest fear is that not only is she their ninth Jane Doe of the year, but that she may be the ninth victim of a vicious transient serial killer they have come to call Doc Holiday.
Crisscrossing America's heartland, Doc Holiday chooses his victims at random, snatching them in one city and leaving them in another, always on a holiday. If Zombie Doe is one of his, he has brought his gruesome game to a new and more terrifying level. But as Kovac and Liska begin to uncover the truth, they will find that the monsters in their ninth girl's life may have lived closer to home. And even as another young woman disappears, they have to ask the question: which is the greater evil--the devil you know or the devil you don't?
New Year’s Eve. The worst possible night of the year to be the limo driver of a party bus. Of course, Jamar Jackson had really not found a night or an occasion when it was good to be a limo driver. In the last two years working for his cousin’s company, he had come to the conclusion that the vast majority of people hired stretch limos for one reason: so they could be drunk, high, obnoxious, and out of control without fear of being arrested. Getting from one place to the next was secondary.
He drove the Wild Thing—a twenty-passenger white Hummer with zebra-print upholstery. A rolling nightclub awash in purple light, it was tricked out with a state-of-the-art sound system, satellite television, and a fully stocked bar. It cost a month’s rent to hire on New Year’s Eve, which included a twenty percent gratuity—which was what made hauling these assholes around worth the headache.
Jamar worked hard for his money. His evenings consisted of shrieking girls in various stages of undress as the night wore on, and frat boys who, regardless of age, never lost the humor of belching and farting. Without fail, driving party groups always involved at least one woman sobbing, one verbal and/or physical altercation between guests, some kind of sex, and a copious amount of vomit by journey’s end. And Jamar handled it all with a smile.
Twenty percent gratuity included was his mantra.
On the upside: These experiences were all grist for the mill. He was a sociology grad student at the University of Minnesota with a master’s thesis to write.
His customers for this New Year’s Eve were a group of young attorneys and their dates, drunk on champagne and a couple of days’ freedom from seventy-hour workweeks. His assignment for the evening was carting them from one party to the next until they all passed out or ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
Sadly, the night was young by New Year’s Eve standards, the booze was flowing, and if he had to listen to Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” one more time, he was going to run this fucking bus into a ditch.
Twenty percent gratuity included . . .
His passengers were loud. They wouldn’t stay in their seats. If one of them wasn’t sprawled on the floor, it was another of them. Every time Jamar checked the rearview he caught a flash of female anatomy. One girl couldn’t keep her top from falling open; another’s skirt was so short she was a squirming advertisement for the salon that did her bikini wax.
Jamar tried to keep his eyes on the road, but he was a twenty-five-year-old guy, after all, with a free view of a naked pussy behind him.
They had started the evening at a private party in the tony suburb of Edina, then moved to a party in a hip restaurant in the Uptown district. Now they would make their way to downtown Minneapolis to a hot club.
The streets were busy and dangerous with drivers who were half-drunk and half-lost. Compounding the situation, the temperature was minus seventeen degrees, and the moisture from the car exhaust was condensing and instantly freezing into a thin layer of clear ice that was nearly impossible to see on the pavement. An unwelcome complication on a rotten stretch of road that was pockmarked with potholes big enough to swallow a man whole.
Twenty percent gratuity included . . .
Jamar’s nerves were vibrating at a frequency almost as loud as the music. His head was pounding with the beat. He had one eye on the girl in the back, one eye on the road. They were coming into a spaghetti tangle of streets and highways crossing and merging into one another. Hennepin and Lyndale, 55 and 94.
The girl with her top down started making out with Miss Naked Pussy. The hoots and hollers of the partygoers rose to a pitch to rival Adam Levine’s voice.
“. . . moves like Jagger . . . I got the moves like Jagger . . .”
Jamar was only vaguely aware of the box truck passing on his left and the dark car merging onto the road in front of him. He wasn’t thinking about how long it would take to stop the tank he was driving if the need arose. His attention was fractured among too many things.
Then, in a split second, everything changed.
Brake lights blazed red too close in front of him.
Jamar shouted, “Shit!” and hit his brakes in reflex.
The Wild Thing just kept rolling. The car seemed to drop then bounce, the trunk flying open.
Now his attention was laser focused on what was right in front of him, a tableau from a horror movie illuminated by harsh white xenon headlights. A woman popped up in the trunk of the car like a freak-show jack-in-the-box. Jamar shrieked at the sight as the woman flipped out of the trunk, hit the pavement, and came upright. Directly in front of him.
He would have nightmares for years after. She looked like a fucking zombie—one eye wide open, mouth gaping in a scream; half her face looked melted away. She was covered in blood.
The screams were deafening then as the Wild Thing struck the zombie—Jamar’s screams, the screams of the girls behind him, the shouts of the guys. The Hummer went into a skid, sliding sideways on the ice-slick road. Bodies were tumbling inside the vehicle. There was a bang and a crash from the back, then another. The Hummer came to a rocking halt as Jamar’s bladder let go and he peed himself.
Twenty percent gratuity included . . .
Happy New Year’s fucking Eve.
“One of the most intense suspense writers around.” —Chicago Tribune
“A mesmerizing psychological drama on loss, guilt, frustration and implacable, unexplainable evil.” Kirkus, on Down the Darkest Road
“Newcomers will have no trouble getting into this suspense novel rich in pre-DNA detecting methods.” — Publishers Weekly on Secrets to the Grave
“…the story zooms along to a satisfyingly creepy conclusion.” — USA Today on Secrets to the Grave
“Once again, bestselling Hoag plots craftily and creates characters readers root for.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred) on Deeper than the Dead
“The chilling premise and exciting twists make Hoag's latest a thriller in every sense of the word. Guaranteed to be in high demand.”—Booklist on Deeper than the Dead
“Stunning…Here [Hoag] stands above the competition, creating complex characters who evolve more than those in most thrillers. The breathtaking plot twists are perfectly paced in this compulsive page-turner.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Prior Bad Acts
“Hoag keeps tight control over her plot in this book, raising the tension with every page that turns. She knows her characters, both good and bad, and intensifies the conflict in the most absorbing way. Not every writer of suspense can manage it so successfully, but Hoag does it from beginning to end.” —Huffington Post on Down the Darkest Road
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