The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Alex Delaware novels and the award-winning #1 international bestselling author of The Genius combine their extraordinary talents for one of the most unusual—and unnerving—thrillers of the year.
Detective Jacob Lev has awakened dazed and confused: it appears he picked up a woman the night before, but can’t remember anything about it. And then suddenly, she’s gone. Not long after, he’s dispatched to a murder scene in a house in the Hollywood hills. There is no body, only a head. And seared into a kitchen counter is a message: the Hebrew word for justice.
Lev is about to embark on an odyssey—through Los Angeles, London, and Prague, through the labyrinthine mysteries of a grotesque ancient legend, and most of all, through himself. All that he has believed to be true will be upended. And not only his world, but the world itself, will be changed.
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Jonathan Kellerman is one of the world’s most popular authors. He has brought his expertise as a clinical psychologist to three dozen New York Times bestselling crime novels, including the Alex Delaware series, The Butcher’s Theater, Billy Straight, The Conspiracy Club, Twisted, and True Detectives. With his wife, Faye Kellerman, he coauthored the bestsellers Double Homicide and Capital Crimes. He is the author of numerous essays, short stories, scientific articles, two children’s books, and three volumes of psychology, as well as the lavishly illustrated With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. Kellerman has won the Goldwyn, Edgar, and Anthony awards, and has been nominated for a Shamus Award. He and his wife live in California, New Mexico, and New York City. Their four children include the novelists Jesse Kellerman and Aliza Kellerman.
Jesse Kellerman is the author of five novels: Sunstroke, Trouble, The Genius, The Executor, and Potboiler. He has won several awards for his writing, including the 2003 Princess Grace Award, given to America’s most promising young playwright, and the 2010 Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle, for The Genius. Potboiler was nominated for a best novel Edgar Award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America. Kellerman lives with his wife and son in California.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Heap had followed the girl for days.
The watch was an important part of it, the most delicious part:
sinking into the background while that wonderful brain of his roared in
high gear, eyes, ears, everything finely tuned.
People tended to underestimate him. They always had. At Eton: two
nights locked in a broom closet. At Oxford, they laughed, they did, the
horsefaced girls and the cooing boys. And dear Papa, Lord of the Manor,
Chancellor of the Purse Strings. All that school and you a bloody office boy.
But underestimated is close to unnoticed.
Heap capitalized on that.
She could be any girl who struck his fancy.
Eye the herd.
The bright-eyed brunette in Brussels.
Her virtual twin in Barcelona.
The early work, glorious countryside afternoons, honing his technique.
The unmistakable tingle came on him like a fit of sick. Though Heap
wasn’t fool enough to deny that he preferred a certain species: dark hair,
sharp features. Lower class, not too bright, not bad-looking but well shy
Smallish body, except he demanded a big chest. The soft, yielding
pressure never failed to excite.
This one was perfect.
He had first spotted her walking east along the Charles Bridge.
He’d been skulking round for two weeks by then, taking in the sights,
waiting for an opportunity to present itself. He liked Prague. He’d visited
before and never left disappointed.
Among the jean-clad magpies, the wattled American tourists, the
leather-voiced buskers, and the minimally talented portrait artists, she had
stood out for her modesty. Limp skirt, tight hair, focused and grim, she
hurried along, cheeks carved out by the midmorning glare off the Vltava.
He tried to follow her but she melted into the crowd. The next day, he
returned, hopeful, prepared, attentive. Opening his guidebook, he pretended
to reread a gray box headed Did you know? The bridge had eggs
mixed into its concrete for added strength. Good King Charles IV had
commandeered every last egg in the kingdom, and they had obeyed, the
stupid, slobbering masses, showing up to place them obsequiously at his
Did Heap know?
Yes, he did. He knew everything worth knowing and much besides.
Even the guidebook underestimated him.
She passed again at the same time. And the day after that. Three days
running he watched her. A girl of fixed habits. Lovely.
Her first stop was a café near the bridge. She donned a red apron,
cleared tables for change. At dusk, she left Old Town for New Town,
exchanged the red apron for a black one, bussing trays and refilling steins
at a beer hall that, by the smell of it, catered to the locals. Photos of the
entrées in the window showed sausages smothered in that vile, muddy
sauce they put on everything.
From beneath the trolley stand, Heap watched her flit here and there.
Twice passersby paused to ask him a question in Czech, which Heap
took to mean that he appeared, as ever, unremarkable. He replied, in
French, that he spoke no Czech.
At midnight, the girl finished mopping up. She doused the restaurant’s
lights, and a few minutes later, a window two floors up blinked
yellow, and her pale arm drew the blind.
It would be a squalid rented room, then. A sad and hopeless life.
He considered finding a way into her flat. Blitzing her in her own
Appealing notion. But Heap despised senseless risk. It came of watching
Papa burn thousands on football, cricket, anything involving imbeciles
and a ball, pouring the fortune of centuries down the grimy throats
of bookmakers. Never the most discriminating chap, Papa. How he
loved to remind Heap that it would all be gone before Heap saw a penny.
Heap was nothing like him and therefore deserved nothing.
Someday Heap would let him know what he thought of that.
To the task at hand: no sense changing the pattern. The pattern
worked. He’d take her on the street like the others.
Leaving an empty-eyed shell propped against a dustbin or a wall,
waiting to be discovered by some privileged citizen of the free world.
Heap examined an unmarked door to the right of the restaurant, six
anonymous buzzer pushes. Never mind her name. He preferred to think
of them numerically. Easier to catalog. He had the librarian’s spirit in
him, he did. She would be number nine.
On the seventh night, a Thursday, Number Nine went up to her
room as usual but reemerged soon after, a feather duster in one hand, a
folded square of white cloth in the other.
He gave her slack, then followed north as she crossed into Old Town
Square, uncomfortably alive with pedestrians. He clung to shadows on
Maiselova as they entered Josefov, the former Jewish quarter.
He had come this way days before, while reacquainting himself with
the city. It was the thing to do, see the old Jewish places. Dutifully he
had elbowed through the revolting gawking swarms, tour guides prattling
about Slavic tolerance while their charges snap snap snapped away.
Heap didn’t care enough about Jews as a group to summon genuine
loathing. He regarded them with the same contempt he had for all lesser
humanity, which included everyone except himself and a select few.
Those Jews he’d known at school were self-satisfied twits laboring to be
more Christian than the Christians.
The girl turned right at a shambling yellow wreck of a building. The
Old-New Synagogue. Curious name to go along with a curious design.
Part Gothic, part Renaissance, the result a rather clumsy porridge, homely
crenellated roof and skimpy windows. Far more old than new. But then
Prague had no end of old buildings. They were common as streetwalkers.
He’d drunk his fill.
An alleyway unfurled along the synagogue’s south side, ending at a
wide set of ten steps that in turn ran up to the shuttered shops of Parí ská
Street. Heap wondered if Nine was headed there, to tidy up at one of
Instead she went left at the foot of the steps, disappearing behind the
synagogue. Heap crept along the alley in crepe-soled shoes, reaching the
steps and stealing a glance.
She stood on a small cobbled terrace, facing the rear of the synagogue,
into which was set an arched iron door, rudely studded. A trio of rubbish
bins constituted the exterior decor. She had flapped open the white cloth
and was tying it around her waist: yet another apron. Heap smiled to
imagine her closet, nothing but aprons in every color. So many secret
identities she had, each more wretched than the last.
She picked up the feather duster from where she’d laid it, against the
wall. She shook it out. Shook her head, as well, as if banishing drowsiness.
Industrious little charwoman. Two full-time jobs and now this.
Who said the work ethic was dead?
He might have taken her right then, but a duet of drunken laughter
came bounding along Parí ská, and Heap continued slowly up the steps,
watching the girl peripherally.
She withdrew a key from her jeans and let herself into the synagogue
through the iron door. The lock clanked.
He took up a vigil beneath a lamppost, opposite the synagogue’s dark
visage. A series of metal rungs in the brick ran up to a second arched
door, a shabby wooden echo of the iron one, thirty-five feet off the
ground and opening illogically onto thin air.
The garret. Did you know? There, the world-famous (according
to whom, Heap wondered) Rabbi Loew had conjured the golem, a
mythical mud-creature who roamed the ghetto, protecting its inhabitants.
The selfsame rabbi had a statue of himself in a grand square, he
did. While following the girl, Heap had pretended to stop and take its
Hideously undignified, really. Mud was one step above shit.
The legend had become the wellspring of a gaudy commercialism, the
monster’s lumpy form cropping up on signs and menus, mugs and pennants.
In one particularly rank bistro near Heap’s hotel you could buy a
brown-sauce-soaked Golem Burger and wash it down with Golemtinis
enough to rot your liver.
People would pay for anything.
People were disgusting.
The laughter of the couple had faded in the warm wind.
Heap decided to give it one more night. More foreplay made for a
Friday evening, the Old-New was a busy place, worshippers filing in,
some stopping to talk to a blond man stationed out front with a
walkie-talkie. With smiles all around, and everyone afforded entry, the
attempt at security struck Heap as a bit of a sham.
Nevertheless he’d come prepared, his better suit (his only decent suit
since Papa had screwed tight the tap), a mild white shirt, and his old
school tie, plus inoffensive flat-lensed specs. Approaching the entrance,
he hunched to take off some height, blousing his jacket, eliminating the
bulge of his inside pocket.
The blond guard was more of a boy, hardly out of nappies. He shifted
his body to block Heap’s progress, addressing him in a throaty, vulgar
accent. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to pray,” Heap said.
“Pray,” the guard said, as if that were the strangest reason to visit a
house of worship.
“You know. Give thanks. Praise God.” Heap smiled. “Perhaps it’ll
“World a mess and all that.”
The guard studied him. “You want to come into the shul ?”
Dense little turd. “Indeed.”
“To pray for the world.”
Heap lowered the level a few notches. “That and personal good fortune,
“You are Jewish?”
“I’m here, am I not?”
The guard smiled. “Please, you can tell me: what is the last holiday?”
“The most recent Jewish holiday.”
A furious moment while Heap ransacked the files. A light sweat broke
out on his forehead. He resisted the urge to wipe it away. Aware that he
was taking an awfully long time, he coughed up what he had. “Well,
then, that would be Passover, would it not?”
The guard said, “Passover.”
“Reckon so, yes.”
The guard said, “You are British.”
There’s a clever lad. Heap nodded.
“I can see your passport, please?”
“One wouldn’t think one would need it to pray.”
The guard made a show of taking out his keys and locking the synagogue
door. He gave Heap a condescending pat on the shoulder. “Wait
He sauntered off down the street, murmuring into his walkie-talkie
while Heap swam in the red tide of his mind. The sheer nerve: to touch
him. He puffed his chest against the bulge. Stag bone handle. Six-inch
blade. Ought to give thanks of your own, mate.
Twenty yards hence, the guard stopped at a doorway. A second man
materialized and the two of them conferred, appraising him openly. The
sweat kept oozing. Sometimes the sweat was a problem. A drop ran in
Heap’s eye and stung and he blinked it away. He knew when he wasn’t
wanted. He could be patient. He left the guards talking and went on
Every man has his limits, though. After six more days without a
fair chance, he was aroused to the brink of madness, and he decided that
tonight would be the night, come what may, and how lovely it would be.
By three a.m., she’d been inside the synagogue for over two hours.
Heap slouched in darkness near the steps, listening to distant bleats from
somewhere well beyond the Jewish quarter, rolling the knife handle between
his fingers. He began to wonder if she’d snuck in a brief nap. Busy
girl, she must be falling off her feet.
The iron door screamed on its hinges.
Number Nine stepped out toting a sizable plastic tub. She turned her
back to him, headed for the rubbish bins, hoisted the tub and dumped it
out noisily, clanking cans and rushing paper, and he unfolded the blade
(oiled and silent, a welcome release it was, like his lungs filling with fresh
air) and moved on her.
Halfway to her, a muffled clap froze him in panic.
He glanced back.
The alley was empty.
As for the girl, she hadn’t noticed the noise; she continued about her
business, raking out the last of the rubbish with her fingers.
She set the tub down.
She untied her hair and began to regather it, and her raised arms
formed a wide-hipped lyre, oh lovely lovely shape, and his blood boiled
afresh and he started forward again. Too eager: his shoe caught the cobblestone
and sent a pebble clicking toward her and she went rigid and
turned, her mouth already poised to scream.
She didn’t have time enough before his hand mashed against her lips
and he twirled her, her back to his belly and his stiffening prick. Practical
hardworking girl, she kept her nails cut short; hard rounded calluses
clawed ineffectually at his arms and face before a deeper prey instinct
took hold of her and she sought his instep to stomp it.
He was ready. Number Four, Edinburgh, had done the same. A sharp
little heel; a broken metatarsal; a good pair of loafers, ruined. Heap had
learned his lesson. He had his feet splayed as he braced against her. He
twined his fingers in her hair and yanked her head back to form a graceful
convexity of her gullet.
He reached up to stroke the blade.
But she was a resourceful lass, and it seemed she must have fingernails
after all, because she made a spittly hiss and he felt a hideous stab in his
eye, like an awl driving through the lens and the jelly to scrape his optic
nerve. False colors gushed. The pain made him gag and loosen his grip
on her hair and his hand went up to protect his face. He had prey instincts,
Her distorted form broke away from him and ran for the steps.
Groaning, he lurched forth, grabbing at her.
Another hiss; another stab of pain, his other eye, driving him stumbling
into the rubbish bins, both eyes streaming, the knife flung from
his hands. He could not understand. Had she shot him? Thrown something
at him? He blinked forcefully to clear the blurriness and he saw the
girl reaching the top of the steps, disappearing round the corner onto
Parí ská, and her waning form brought the awareness of a dawning
She had seen his face.
He struggled to his feet and started after her, and from behind he
heard a hiss and pain knocked him flat, as if someone had buried a claw
hammer in the base of his skull, and as he pitched against the hard
ground, his fine roaring brain grasped that something was happening to
him, something wrong, because the girl was long gone.
Sprawled on his stomach in scattered rubbish, he opened his tearing
eyes and saw it, half a foot away, a coin-sized spot, glittering blackly on
A hard-domed insect, shimmering antennae, long black thorn sprouting
from its head.
It charged him, driving itself into the center of Heap’s forehead.
He screamed and swatted at it and tried to stand up, but the thing
kept coming at him, fast and vicious, the growl of its wings audible in
every direction, like a cattle prod touched to Heap’s neck, his spine, the
backs of his knees, herding him away from the steps and backing him
into the wall of the synagogue, where he balled up with his arms thrown
over his head.
Abruptly, the assault broke off, and the nigh...
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