Praise for John Gilstrap
NICK OF TIME
“A page-turning thriller with strong characters, exciting action, and a big heart.”
AGAINST ALL ENEMIES
“Any John Gilstrap novel packs the punch of a rocket-propelled grenade—on steroids! Tentacles of intrigue reach into FBI headquarters and military hierarchy. Lines are crossed and new ones drawn. The philosophy of killing to preserve life takes on new meaning. Gilstrap grabs the reader’s attention in a literary vise grip. Each installment of the Jonathan Grave series is a
of covert incursions, and a damn good read.”
“Tense, clever . . . series enthusiasts are bound to enjoy this new thriller.”
OOK OF THE
“Gilstrap’s new Jonathan Grave thriller is his best novel to date—even considering his enviable bibliography.
starts off explosively and keeps on rolling. Gilstrap puts you in the moment as very few authors can. And there are many vignettes that will stay with you long after you have finished the book.”
—Joe Hartlaub, BookReporter.com
“Powerful and explosive, an unforgettable journey into the dark side of the human soul. Gilstrap is a master of action and drama. If you like Vince Flynn and Brad Thor, you’ll love John Gilstrap.”
“Rousing . . . Readers will anxiously await the next installment.”
“It’s easy to see why John Gilstrap is the go-to guy among thriller writers, when it comes to weapons, ammunition, and explosives. His expertise is uncontested.”
—John Ramsey Miller
“The best page-turning thriller I’ve grabbed in ages. Gilstrap is one of the very few writers who can position a set of characters in a situation, ramp up the tension, and—yes, keep it there, all the way through. There is no place you can put this book down.”
—Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books, Vermont
“A page-turning, near-perfect thriller, with engaging and believable characters . . . unputdownable! Warning—if you must be up early the next morning, don’t start the book.”
Top Mystery Novels
“Takes you full force right away and doesn’t let go until the very last page . . . has enough full-bore action to take your breath away, barely giving you time to inhale. The action is nonstop. Gilstrap knows his technology and weaponry.
will blow you away.”
“If you are a fan of thriller novels, I hope you’ve been reading John Gilstrap’s Jonathan Grave series.
is a character-driven work where the vehicle has four on the floor and horsepower to burn. From beginning to end, it is dripping with excitement.”
—Joe Hartlaub, BookReporter.com
“If you like Vince Flynn–style action, with a strong, incorruptible hero, this series deserves to be in your reading diet.
reconfirms Gilstrap as a master of jaw-dropping action and heart-squeezing suspense.”
The Big Thrill
“Jonathan Grave, my favorite freelance peacemaker, problem-solver, and tough guy hero, is back—and in particularly fine form.
is classic Gilstrap: the people are utterly real, the action’s foot to the floor, and the writing’s fluid as a well-oiled machine gun. A tour de force!”
“This addictively readable thriller marries a breakneck pace to a complex, multilayered plot.... A roller coaster ride of adrenaline-inducing plot twists leads to a riveting and highly satisfying conclusion. Exceptional characterization and an intricate, flawlessly crafted story line make this an absolute must read for thriller fans.”
grabs hold of you on page one and doesn’t let go. Gilstrap’s new series is terrific. It will leave you breathless. I can’t wait to see what Jonathan Grave is up to next.”
“The release of a new John Gilstrap novel is always worth celebrating, because he’s one of the finest thriller writers on the planet.
showcases his work at its finest—taut, action-packed, and impossible to put down!”
“A great hero, a pulse-pounding story—and the launch of a really exciting series.”
“An entertaining, fast-paced tale of violence and revenge.”
“No other writer is better able to combine in a single novel both rocket-paced suspense and heartfelt looks at family and the human spirit. And what a pleasure to meet Jonathan Grave, a hero for our time . . . and for all time.”
AT ALL COSTS
“Riveting . . . combines a great plot and realistic, likable characters with look-over-your-shoulder tension. A page turner.”
The Kansas City Star
“Gilstrap builds tension . . . until the last page, a hallmark of great thriller writers. I almost called the paramedics before I finished
At All Costs.
“Gilstrap has ingeniously twisted his simple premise six ways from Sunday.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Gilstrap pushes every thriller button . . . a nail-biting denouement and strong characters.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Gilstrap has a shot at being the next John Grisham . . . one of the best books of the year.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Emotionally charged . . . one of the year’s best.”
“Brilliantly calculated . . . With the skill of a veteran pulp master, Gilstrap weaves a yarn that demands to be read in one sitting.”
“Like a roller coaster, the story races along on well-oiled wheels to an undeniably pulse-pounding conclusion.”
eter Banks protested bitterly about being treated like a prisoner, cursing Darla Sweet and her entire family tree. Darla tried shutting him up by telling him that his belligerence was only hurting his own case, and Carter told him that he was a fool to say anything from now on without his lawyer being present. Neither approach worked, so by the time Carter was dropped back at his car, he was relieved to be free of them both.
Something about Darla’s conclusions vis-à-vis Peter didn’t sit right with him. First of all, Carter had a hard time seeing that kid in the role of a murderer—even an accidental one. His shock at being accused seemed too genuine, as did his calm demeanor when they arrived at the pool hall. Guilty people ran away, or at least tried to.
Just as Nicki and Brad had.
This Banks kid never seemed even close to bolting. His eyes didn’t shift, he didn’t seem to calculate distances to the exits. Instead, he played a damn fine game of pool. Perhaps Deputy Sweet was not an aficionado of the game, but Carter knew from personal experience that when nerves got edgy, pool shots paid the price. Peter Banks was threading needles with the cue ball.
But if Peter wasn’t their man, Carter was no closer to saving Nicki than he was when he spoke to her on the phone three hours ago.
He had to find that tape. There’d be no arguing with a video. Standing there in the parking lot with his key poised at the lock, he cast his gaze back at the façade of the Quik Mart. Crime scene tape sealed the opening of the doors, but all of the investigating personnel had left. In their minds, he supposed, the case was closed.
Wiping the mask of rainwater from his face, Carter ran his options through his mind. The one that made the most sense involved calling the state police and playing out his new theory to the powers that be. To do that, though—to accuse the senior cop in any community of this level of malfeasance—a person had better have his shit together in a watertight bag. Circumstantial evidence wouldn’t be enough. Which meant that Carter didn’t yet have what he needed.
It all came back to the damn videotape.
was the single piece of evidence that would get everybody off of Nicki’s case.
Suppose the tape was still in the store. That was possible, wasn’t it? If Hines couldn’t have smuggled the tape out under his shirt, and the place had been crawling with investigators ever since, then maybe he’d hidden it somewhere in a back room. Surely not. Maybe. Carter considered prying open a door and combing through the Quik Mart himself, but he dismissed the thought. He wouldn’t know where to look, and it would hardly help Nicki’s case for him to be arrested on a burglary rap.
The more he thought about it, the more he fumed. How could one father put another through this kind of anguish? What would drive Hines to do such a thing? Surely, the sheriff’s own instincts as a parent should have triggered some measure of mercy.
It just didn’t add up. At a visceral level, Carter couldn’t buy the motivation inherent to Darla Sweet’s theory of the cover-up. It would take a beast with no heart to inflict this kind of distress and pain on innocent people merely for the sake of protecting one’s career, or even a son’s future as a professional athlete. The motivation just seemed too light. Add to that the apparent innocence of Darla’s prime suspect, and that left one huge mystery.
Not only would the sheriff have had to stash the video, but he also would have had to wipe the murder weapon free of fingerprints. Surely, the killer didn’t stick around to do that, and for Hines to go to those ends to protect the son of a bitch—
“Oh, my God,” Carter breathed. The answer flashed into his head with such brilliance and clarity that it
to be the right one. Sheriff Hines was covering for his son, Jeremy. That explained everything. It never did make sense for Sheriff Hines to go through all of this for the sake of a ne’er-do-well dropout, but it was the least he could do to protect his own flesh and blood.
Carter thought about the look on Gisela Hines’s face when they’d first arrived, and about that huge bruise on Jeremy’s eye. Darla had been quick to conclude that the bruise came from a beating from his father, and maybe some of it was, but it was equally feasible—even
feasible in Carter’s mind—that Jeremy Hines’s black eye was the result on one hell of a punch delivered by someone trying to foil a robbery.
He thought back to his telephone conversation with Nicki. She’d told him that Brad had tackled the robber from behind and hit him hard in the face.
But why would Jeremy Hines rob a store? What could he possibly hope to gain by sticking a gun in a store clerk’s face? Surely, in a town this size he didn’t think that he could get away with it.
As he felt himself running away with this new take on events, Carter forced himself to put on the breaks. To convince anyone—even himself—that this theory had merit, he needed means, motive, and opportunity. Right now all he had was a wild hare of an idea.
And a bruised eye.
And a gun wiped clean.
And a million questions.
It was time to pay another visit to the Hines residence.
* * *
Scotty had never bled like this before. About the worst was a gash in his knee when he’d slipped at the swimming pool. Back then, he could see the flash of white bone smiling back at him from behind the torn skin. That had hurt like crazy.
This thing on his head didn’t hurt all that much, but it bled like he was in a horror movie. The rain probably made it look worse than it was, but the blood had turned his T-shirt crimson. He could even see little red rivers flowing down his legs. He wondered if maybe his brains were hanging out. That was the fear that kept him from touching the wound. The very thought of brain tissue under his fingernails made him feel queasy.
He picked up the pace and ran again. He had to get to the Mellings’. From there he could call the cops and then they could rescue Gramma.
Did you see the way she swung into action to fight Brad? She was like an animal, flying through the air and nailing the son of a bitch like a linebacker. Who’d’ve thought? She saved Scotty’s life. He never in a million years thought anyone would risk their own life for his. With Mama, it had been just the opposite. In Scotty’s world, people existed for themselves.
After all, Gramma barely even knew him. That was because she’d thrown Mama out of the house for getting knocked up with him, and they never talked to each other. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Scotty, none of the bad shit that tracked his mama through life would have happened.
No surprise there. Scotty knew he was a pain in the ass. It was his mouth that got him into trouble. He didn’t have that little switch inside that other people had to cut off thoughts before they could become words. Sometimes, he found himself saying shit that he hadn’t even known he’d been thinking.
It was only natural that Gramma got so pissed off at him.
got pissed at him. Just last week, he’d promised Gramma that he’d move out the instant he turned sixteen—as soon that he could get the e-constipation paper signed. E-constipation was the process by which kids could be treated as adults under the law. Kathy Melling had told him all about it.
Gramma laughed when he told her the plan; he’d never heard her laugh so hard. “Honey,” she’d said, “I wouldn’t sign your e-constipation papers on a bet.” He hadn’t thought that the idea was all that ridiculous.
begun to think that maybe she was beginning to like him a little. They laughed a lot when they weren’t screaming and being mad at each other.
Now she was alone with a couple of killers. And that one—that Brad—was plenty pissed off.
If something happened to Gramma, Scotty would have nowhere to go. Those first nights after Mama’s murder, when no one was sure what to do with him, were the most frightening of his life. If Gramma got murdered too, where would he go?
Now that he thought about it, maybe cutting the battery cable hadn’t been such a good idea. Maybe if he hadn’t, they’d be gone now. He’d done it on an impulse, really, inspired by seeing the long-handled bolt cutters leaning against the wall of the garage. He was worried that they might try to kidnap Gramma and drive her off and do something terrible. Rape her, maybe—which Scotty had only recently learned meant a lot more than the when-a-man-beats-up-a-woman explanation that his mama had given him.
In the heat of the moment, Scotty had reasoned that if the killers couldn’t drive off anywhere, they’d be easier to catch. Now, as it was taking him for-freaking-ever to get to the Mellings’, he wondered if he hadn’t just pushed Brad over the edge. Everybody knew that a trapped animal was more dangerous than a roaming one, and Scotty wondered if the same thing applied to people.
If they did hurt Gramma, or if they killed her, it would be all his fault. He picked up the pace even more.
Up ahead, a flash of something blue caught his eye. Through the rain, in the lingering early twilight, he could barely make it out. It looked like a car.
Not just any car, but a police car.
And it was heading right for him.
* * *
Trooper Hayes blinked twice. When he first saw the speck in the distance, he didn’t know what to make of it through the fog of the rain. It took him all of three seconds to connect the dots.
He pulled the microphone from its clip and spoke the words that would bring cops from all over the state to this little corner of Lincolntown.