The Watcher In The Wall

Hardcover | March 15, 2016

byOwen Laukkanen

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A heart-pounding new Stevens and Windermere thriller from the award-winning author of The Stolen Ones and The Professionals.
 
Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere of the joint BCA-FBI violent crime task force have handled shocking cases before, but this one is different. Stevens’s daughter, Andrea, is distraught over a classmate’s suicide, but what the two investigators find is even more disturbing—an online suicide club of unhappy teenagers, presided over by an anonymous presence who seems to be spurring them on. Soon, it becomes apparent that the classmate wasn’t the first victim—and won’t be the last, either, unless they can hunt down this psychopath once and for all.

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From the Publisher

A heart-pounding new Stevens and Windermere thriller from the award-winning author of The Stolen Ones and The Professionals.   Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere of the joint BCA-FBI violent crime task force have handled shocking cases before, but this one is different. Stevens’s daughter, Andrea, is distraught over a classmate’s suicid...

Owen Laukkanen was born in Vancouver. After graduating from university in 2006, he answered an ad on Craigslist for a summer job at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as a “poker tournament reporter” for a poker website. At the end of the summer, they offered him a full-time job. You wouldn’t think you could make a living at this, ...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 9.35 × 6.25 × 1.19 inPublished:March 15, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399174540

ISBN - 13:9780399174544

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It was time.             Adrian Miller had planned to wait, a few more days, another week, maybe. Hell, when he woke up in the morning, before class, he wasn’t even sure he would do it anymore. He’d thought about his mom and dad and sister, about Lucas, and wondered what kind of monster would want to hurt them the way he was planning. He’d hugged his parents goodbye and walked out the front door, and it was a beautiful fall morning, crisp and bracing and clear, and he’d decided, not yet. Maybe not ever.             But then he showed up at school, and it all started again.             Lucas wouldn’t talk to him. Lucas never talked to him, not in public anyway. Lucas avoided his looks in the hallway, wouldn’t eat lunch with him, made him wait until the final bell rang and they could go away to the park somewhere, or Lucas’s dad’s basement, somewhere far away from school and Lucas’s real friends.             Today, though, Lucas acted even more distant. Wouldn’t even answer his texts. Laughed along with his friends when they mocked him in math class. When someone poured water on his seat, so when he sat down it looked like he’d pissed himself. He’d looked over at the jocks in the corner, Lucas among them, all of them pointing and laughing and losing their minds, snapping pictures to upload to Facebook. Lucas was laughing with them. Lucas didn’t even have the courtesy to look away when he looked over. Even when he caught Lucas’s eye, like, what the hell, man?             Like, I thought you were my friend.             The pictures showed up online around lunchtime. Followed him around for the rest of the day. By the time the final bell rang, he’d forgotten how happy he’d felt this morning. He’d remembered why he wanted to do it.             And now it was time.             He was alone in the house. His parents wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours, at least. His little sister was off with her friends. He set his backpack on the bed and opened up his laptop, heard the chime from a hundred and one Facebook notifications.             Fag.             Loser.             Fucking skid.             He opened a new window in his browser. Logged on to the website he visited most. Found Ambriel98 and opened a chat window.             I think I’m ready. I think I’m going to do it today.             A long pause. He pictured Ambriel on the other side of the screen, staring into her own laptop somewhere in Pennsylvania. Wondered if she’d try and stop him.             She didn’t.             It’s the right decision, she typed. U’ll be in a better place.             At least I won’t be in this place, he replied.             I wish I had your balls.             He kind of laughed, despite himself. Take them.             Turn your webcam on if you’re doing it, she typed. Like we talked about. You’ll inspire me. You’ll inspire so many people like us.             He looked around his room. Wondered if he was really ready to do this. Heard the chime from Facebook again, another asshole he couldn’t avoid, even in his own bedroom. Pictured going through another year of this shit, graduating, and then what?             More shit, probably.             More assholes.             Never any escape.             He dug into the bottom drawer of his desk. Pulled out the bottle he’d stolen from his dad, uncapped it and took a drink. Grimaced at the burn. Then he turned back to his laptop. Screw it. He was ready.             Get ready for the show, he told Ambriel as he switched on his webcam. See you on the other side.   TWO   The phone wouldn’t stop ringing.             Carla Windermere looked up from her computer, irritated. Looked across the small office to her partner’s empty workstation, then out into the hall and the Criminal Investigative Division beyond. Kirk Stevens had disappeared somewhere, and he’d left his dinky old cell phone behind.             Windermere pushed herself out of her chair, crossed to Stevens’s desk, where the cell phone kept bleating its tinny electronic ring tone. She snatched up the phone, walked out to the doorway and scanned CID, fully intending to give her partner a lecture about the merits of his handset’s “silent” feature. But there was no sign of Stevens anywhere.             Windermere was still getting used to the whole partner thing. She’d worked with Stevens, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, on a number of high profile cases during her four years in the FBI’s Minneapolis office. She liked the man, a twenty-year cop with sharp instincts and a steady aim, figured they worked well together—and history proved it. But when their bosses had decided to put them together onto a joint FBI-BCA violent crimes taskforce, they’d shunted Stevens into the FBI building, given him an office with Windermere. And Windermere still wasn’t sure how she felt about sharing.             Still clutching the phone, Windermere walked deeper into the CID bullpen, splitting the rows of cubicles until she came to Derek Mathers’s desk. “Seen Stevens?”             Mathers looked up from his computer, grinned when he saw her. He was a junior agent, a boyish, good-looking Wisconsin farm boy. He’d also managed to thaw Windermere’s heart enough that lately she was calling him her boyfriend, as much as the lovey-dovey stuff nauseated her.             “Stevens? No idea,” Mathers said. “You try the kitchen?”             The phone shut off. Stayed silent a moment. Then it started back up again. Around CID, people poked their heads up from their cubicles.             “I swear, the bastard’s doing this to piss me off,” Windermere told him.             Stevens was just replacing the coffee pot when she walked into the break room. “Carla,” he said. “You want coffee? Fresh pot.”             “I swear to god, Stevens, if this thing keeps ringing, I’m going to answer it myself,” she said, brandishing the phone. “And I can’t be held responsible for what happens next.”             Stevens made his eyes wide. Put down the pot and his coffee mug, crossed the break room to the door. “Give it here,” he said. “The last thing I need is you making friends with my wife.”             He took the phone, flipped it open. “Agent Stevens,” he said, ducking out into the hallway.             Windermere savored the silence for a moment. Looked over at the coffee pot. As long as I’m here. She poured herself a cup. Replaced the pot. Left the break room and found Stevens standing in the hall, staring at his phone, pale.             “You okay?” she asked.             Stevens glanced at her. “That was Andrea,” he told her. “There was an incident at her school; I have to go get her. One of her classmates, uh.” He shook his head. “Well, I guess he killed himself.”             Windermere felt something twinge inside her, something small and tucked-away and long forgotten. “Shit,” she said. “Shit, Stevens, that’s awful.”             “Yeah,” Stevens said, still staring at the phone. “Andrea’s a mess,” he said. “I should—”             “Go,” Windermere said. “Definitely. Get out of here.”                   Stevens nodded. Walked off down the hall like he was in a kind of a daze. Windermere watched him go, all the way back through CID to the bank of elevators on the far wall. Watched him until he’d disappeared, and wondered why she wasn’t moving.   THREE   “His name was Adrian Miller,” Kirk Stevens told his wife. “His parents found him in the bedroom when they got home from work yesterday. They figure he did it about as soon as he came home from school.”             Across the dining room table, Andrea Stevens wiped her eyes with a Kleenex. “He was in my math class,” she told her parents. “Some asshole jocks from the football team poured water on his chair yesterday and took pictures of it when he sat down. It was all over Facebook.”             She blew her nose. Glanced at her mom. “Sorry for swearing,” she said, quietly.             Nancy Stevens waved her off. Dabbed at her own eyes. “Kids can be so mean.”             Stevens nodded. Had nothing to say. He’d driven to the school as soon as Andrea called, found her with her boyfriend and the rest of her classmates, the principal, and a couple of grief counselors besides. Three weeks into senior year, everybody still wearing the last of their summer tans, nobody prepared for this.                 He’d called his wife at the law office, and she picked up JJ, the Stevens’s twelve-year-old son, brought everyone back home for a family day.             “He was just a quiet kid,” Andrea said. “He always dressed kind of funny, and he didn’t have any friends. He was a nice guy, though. There was nothing wrong with him.”             “Why didn’t he have any friends?” JJ asked.             “I don’t know,” Andrea said. “People were always picking on him, that’s all.” Her face seemed to crumple, and she hid her face in her hands. “It’s all just so stupid.”             You got that right, Stevens thought. He’d dealt with plenty of different kinds of cruelty during his career as a BCA investigator, but the ways kids had of tormenting each other still made his stomach turn. Andrea, smart and athletic and popular, had managed to avoid the worst of the bullying, thank God. But JJ would be starting high school soon enough, and who could say how his classmates would treat him?             Andrea looked up from her hands. “You have to do something, Dad,” she said. “For Adrian. You have to make it so the people who did this to him have to pay.”             Stevens swapped glances with his wife. Leaned in and met his daughter’s eyes. “I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, Ange,” he told her. “This kind of thing, it’s probably too late to solve anything. There’s not really any point in mucking people around.”             “You’re a cop,” Andrea said. “Adrian’s dead. Aren’t you supposed to punish the responsible parties?”             Nancy rubbed Andrea’s back. “He can’t just arrest all those jocks, honey,” she said. “It wouldn’t solve anything, anyway. It’s not going to bring Adrian back, no matter who gets arrested.”                        Andrea stifled a sob. “You have to do something, Dad. You can’t just let people get away with this.”             Stevens studied his daughter across the table, her fierce eyes. She has her mom’s sense of justice, he thought. Always fighting for the underdog. It was the quality he admired most in his wife, a brilliant law mind who’d turned her back on a comfortable salary to work Legal Aid for the city’s downtrodden. It warmed Stevens’s heart to know his daughter had inherited the same passion.             “Let me see what I can do,” he told Andrea. “I can’t promise it’ll make you feel any better, but maybe I can make a few calls.”   FOUR   Windermere tried to get back to work after Stevens had gone. She had a whole pile of paperwork to process, the last hoops to jump through on a sex-trafficking case she and Stevens had closed during the summer. Had all afternoon to work on it, her office blissfully free of any distractions, any annoying ring tones, but somehow, the work didn’t get done.             “It’s nothing,” she told Mathers, at dinner that night. “I’m fine, Derek. No big deal.”             They’d gone back to her condo in downtown Minneapolis, as usual. Were supposed to do some cooking, had all the ingredients for a kickass ceviche. Windermere had started her career in Miami; she was slowly weaning Mathers off of his meat-and-potatoes dependency. But tonight, they ate takeout Chinese, fried rice and egg rolls. And conversation was minimal.             She’d done some looking around after Stevens had left that morning, dug through yesterday’s police reports until she found the right file: Adrian Miller, seventeen years old, a senior at Kennedy Collegiate. Found hanging in his bedroom, a clear suicide. There wasn’t much more in the file, not much more to say, but she’d stared at the damn screen all afternoon.             She couldn’t say why, exactly. Windermere prided herself on being the tough cop, the no-nonsense hardass who brought the bad guys to justice without dragging any emotional baggage behind her.  She was strong, independent, barely needed Mathers in her life, much less any friends and family. And kids? Forget it. So why did some poor teenager’s suicide have her rattled?             Big Bird, that’s why, she thought. Wanda Rose and Rene Duclair. Things you thought you’d managed to forget             She drank another beer while Mathers cleared the table. Knew he was watching her, waiting for her to say something, ignored him. Just sat at the table and drank her beer, thought about Adrian Miller and Wanda and Rene, tried to chase those long-ago voices from her ears.             “You know you can talk to me, right?” Mathers said, tucking the leftovers in the fridge. “I mean, something’s bugging you, Carla. I’m your boyfriend. I can help if you let me.”             She drained her bottle, set it down on the table. “Bring me another one, Derek,” she said. “Seeing as you’re so keen to help.”   FIVE   Windermere had been a junior when Rene Duclair moved to Southaven. She came from across the Mississippi somewhere, some backwater town in Arkansas, as far as Windermere could figure. She was quiet, kind of homely, wore the same three outfits in constant rotation, the colors fading from all the washing, the fabric thinning to nothing. Poor, Wanda Rose would whisper, watching Rene pass. Her dang clothes don’t even fit right. Must have been wearing them since she was normal-sized.             Rene was tall, had inches on most of the boys in the grade, let alone the girls. Plus, she was clumsy. Awkward and ungainly as a baby giraffe, the kind of girl who’d set fire to her chemistry experiment, cause an evacuation. She was always knocking things over, tripping over her feet and falling on her face, spilling her lunch, sending her homework flying. Rene was an easy target to pick on. And Wanda Rose did.             Thing is, for all that, Rene was a decent girl. Windermere had a couple classes with her, senior year, walked a similar route home ‘til they’d covered about a half mile from school. Sometimes, they walked together. Sometimes when they walked, they talked.             Turned out Rene had been all over the place, before she came to Mississippi. Her dad had worked barges on the river, from the Gulf Coast all the way up to St. Louis, and he’d taken Rene with him.             “My mom wandered off when I was little,” Rene told Windermere. “So I had to go along when my dad found a new job. We lived in just about every state within fifty miles of the river.”             But her dad had hurt himself, fallen hard off an oil barge onto the dock, and so he’d moved her in with her aunt and uncle in Southaven, which was pretty well Memphis, inland from the river and what few friends she’d accumulated, miles away from her dad.             “He kinda gave me up,” she told Windermere. “Said he couldn’t raise a daughter while he was laid up in recovery.”             “You think you’ll go back when he’s better?” Windermere asked her.             Rene shrugged, scuffed her toe on the sidewalk. “Dunno,” she said. “It’s been almost a year now. I get the feeling he’s enjoying the break.”   So that was Rene. Quiet, downcast and lonely, rarely with a smile on her face. Taller than every girl in senior class—and half the boys, too—and meek as a mouse. But a decent person, a nice girl. Windermere found she didn’t mind walking home with Rene, kind of enjoyed the company, at least when they’d made it far enough from school that Wanda and her friends couldn’t see.             Wanda Rose was the queen of Martin Luther King High, the most popular girl in the school. She set the fashion trends, made the social rules, determined who mattered. She’d decided pretty quick that Rene Duclair didn’t matter, and the rest of the school followed her lead, even Windermere, who was kind of too-tall herself, kind of embarrassingly bookish, who was secretly grateful that it was Rene Duclair who’d captured Wanda’s attention, and not she.             Windermere had always been too smart to really fit in. She’d always been brash and competitive, an overachiever. She pulled top-of-the-class grades, and she ate lunch alone. She was lonely. She envied Wanda Rose and her circle of friends, ached to be included.             So Windermere didn’t stand up for Rene when Wanda and her friends picked on her. When the girls’ locker room echoed with Wanda’s laughing, mocking singsong. Big Bird, Big Bird, go fly away.             Windermere didn’t set Wanda straight, not once, not ever, even as Rene was breaking down, fleeing in tears, even as she knew that Rene could really use the friendship. Windermere did nothing. She stood on the sidelines and watched, as Wanda’s taunts got louder and the chorus grew behind her, watched as Rene withdrew, more and more.             And then one day, Rene walked out of school and didn’t come back, not ever, and Wanda Rose and her friends just kept on laughing, as if they didn’t know, as if they hadn’t played a part in driving Rene to do what she’d done.             They graduated without Rene. Wanda Rose was the prom queen. She’d married a dentist, moved on to another chapter of her charmed, lovely life, and if she ever gave another thought to Rene Duclair, she didn’t show it.             But Windermere did. Windermere thought about Rene Duclair, couldn’t escape her. Windermere hated Wanda Rose for what she’d done to Rene. Hated herself even more for the part that she’d played in it. She’d gone off to college mired in guilt, unable to shake Rene Duclair from her brain.             She graduated, got her law degree. Knew pretty quick she was headed for police work. The Bureau. Took a post in Miami, hit the streets, went to work, and it turned out she was a pretty damn good cop. She’d done good in the world, more than her share, and gradually, Rene Duclair had faded from her mind.             But now she was back, Rene and Wanda, too, fueled by Adrian Miller, this latest tragedy. All that guilt and self-loathing had come flooding back, everything, and Windermere didn’t have the first clue how to deal with it.   SIX             Next day, Windermere was waiting when Stevens came into the office. Knew from the look on his face he’d had the same kind of night she had.             “The poor kid,” he told her, easing into his chair. “Had people posting pictures of him all over Facebook, doctored up so it looked like he wet his pants.”              He laughed a little. “Andrea’s all out for justice. Wants the bullies tarred and feathered, I guess, and who can blame her? I told her I’d see what I could do.” Windermere sipped her coffee. Felt that twinge again, deep in her gut. Couldn’t see that there was any justice to be had, not here, not in her experience. But she knew Andrea Stevens wouldn’t see it that way. “What are you thinking?” she asked her partner.             Stevens shrugged. “I made a few calls to the Saint Paul PD, told them what Andrea told me about the jocks and the pictures on Facebook. Maybe they bring a few kids in on bullying charges, but so what? Doesn’t bring Adrian Miller back, does it?”             “No,” Windermere said. “It doesn’t.”             Stevens caught her tone. “You okay?”             She nodded, reached for her coffee mug again. “Of course I’m okay,” she said. “Didn’t sleep well, is all. Mathers hogging all the blankets, you know?”             Stevens laughed again. Then the smile faded.  “Andrea wants answers,” he said. “I don’t exactly know how to tell her there’s some things you just can’t make sense of in this world.”             Windermere took another sip of coffee. Saw Rene again, Wanda. Wanda the prom queen, Rene just gone. “You got that right,” she said. “God damn it.”   Life went on, though.             Kirk Stevens pushed Adrian Miller from his mind, tried to focus on the job. Went back to chucking paperwork, tidying up the last scraps of that sex trafficking ring.  Mostly busywork, at this point, a few low-level thugs and a couple perverts with money, the organized crime units in New Jersey handling most of the actual legwork. The blockbuster stuff, the shootouts and car chases, was long over.             Then Derek Mathers knocked on the door to the office, poked his head inside. “Agent Stevens—Kirk,” he said, still waffling a little bit on the familiarity side of things. Still getting used to seeing Stevens in CID every day, a colleague, where he once might have been a rival for Windermere’s affection. “Got a couple visitors down at the front door. Your, ah, daughter and her boyfriend.”             Stevens put down the warrant he was scanning. “Andrea?”             “Said she needed to talk to you,” Mathers said. “Something about the Adrian Miller case.”             Across the office, Windermere was watching Stevens. “Uh,” Mathers said. “What exactly is the Adrian Miller case, you guys?”             “Guess we’re about to find out,” Windermere said, standing.             Stevens blinked, surprised. “You’re coming with?”             “This paperwork is boring the crap out of me, partner. Let’s go see what Andrea has to say.”             She was out the door before Stevens could argue, and he swapped shrugs with Mathers instead, stood and followed Windermere across CID to the elevators.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Watcher in the Wall“[Laukkanen is] a talented painter of individual scenes…. Fans of Tess Gerritsen and Linda Castillo should make a note of this author’s name.” — USA Today“Known for his powerful and suspenseful stories Laukkanen continues this pattern with his latest book. …This chilling story is gut wrenching. A word of warning make sure you have the time to read it because you will not want to put it down.”   — The Military Press   “The author's experiences give this novel psychological depth and an urgency that drives the book and its readers to a breathless conclusion.” — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   “[An] eerily timely and poignant book …  It’s a true page-turner up to the final act, which quickly escalates into a fiery exchange of gunfire and action-packed pursuit of the perp.”— BookPage“Owen Laukkanen knows which crimes and misdemeanors are too monstrous to be ignored.” — New York Times Book Review   “A gut-wrenching tale filled with empathy for alienated teens. This may be the best yet in a first-rate series.” — Kirkus, starred review   “This is a guaranteed lost weekend for Laukkanen’s fans and for anyone those seeking a Lee Child–like adrenaline rush.” — Booklist“Laukkanen’s best novel to date. I found this novel irresistible. If you haven’t already discovered Laukkanen’s Windermere-Stevens series, this is the book to start.” — The Globe and MailPraise for  The Stolen Ones “From start to finish, The Stolen Ones is a fast-moving and satisfying thriller. Laukkanen is a first-class storyteller.” —Kirkus Reviews   “Laukkanen is gifted at creating relatable characters, and readers will happily tear through it. The combination of breakneck pacing, scarily plausible evils, and steadily rising stakes culminates in an explosive  finale.” —Booklist   “Savage, cathartic . . . Laukkanen deftly mixes sharp social criticism with bleak white-knuckle suspense.” —Publishers Weekly   “Fans of The Professionals will be delighted. Here it is not the criminals who are intriguing, but rather the victims who turn out to be far stronger and more remarkable than originally anticipated. Recommended for fans of well-written, thought-provoking thrillers.” —Library Journal   “Intense and fast-paced, with an intriguing storyline. An insightful look at morality and greed [in] an action-packed plot.” —Blackfive   “Here is my one-word review of The Stolen Ones: Whoa. Owen Laukkanen is rapidly becoming the king of the one-night reads. The Stolen Ones will make you a believer. You will also wonder why Laukkanen is not a household name in the constellation of thriller authors. Read this one (and his backlist) and spread the word. These books are amazing.” —Bookreporter.com