Review

Dead Before Dark

by Wendy Corsi Staub

Thirty-five tortuous prison years made the Night
Watchman’s desire to murder again build like shaken
champagne. He is free --- at last! --- and the cork is ready to
pop, letting him reclaim macabre fame that made him as notorious as
Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard is out of the question in the mean
streets of several U.S. cities, leaving only Super Psychic Lucinda
Sloan to keep America safe. But who keeps Lucinda safe from the
Night Watchman?

Shortly after the Night Watchman’s prison release on the
first day of summer, his celebratory murder brings Lucinda and
former lover Detective Randy Barakat together, but only
professionally. Randy is now married, but “Lucinda
doesn’t have to be psychic to know that he, too, has
unresolved feelings,” despite Randy being engaged when
Lucinda met him. Lucinda need not be psychic to know that such a
romance is doomed. Or is it?

In a psychic scene, Lucinda “sees” the body of her
former lover’s wife. Wishful thinking or ESP? The Psychic
Detective goes to Randy’s house, newspapers strewn about the
entrance, a sure sign no one has been there for days. With a key
under the mat, the Clever Clairvoyant opens the door and with
psychic horror knows what has happened, before discovering....

“A monster masquerading as a gentleman,” the Night
Watchman’s MO is always at full moon, and victims’ lips
are smeared with red lipstick that make them “look like a
demented clown.” The Sexy Soothsayer wears blood-red lipstick
of a war-time calendar girl. The Night Watchman alters his MO
“[t]o let the almighty Lucinda know she no longer has control
of her own life.” He breaks into her apartment, leaves a
scrapbook of all his macabre “successes,” including
mention of the “suicide” of her friend’s sister
35 years ago. Cam Hastings, a friend, is also clairvoyant,
“having visions of her daughter’s abduction long before
it became a frightening reality.”

The Night Watchman deviated from his MO when he murdered his own
mother --- the heinous crime for which he was sent to prison for 35
years. The MO also calls for sort of a “parting gift”
--- parting from the world of the living. He leaves on each
victim’s wrist a watch with the death date and longitude and
latitude of the murder site. He leaves clues for Lucinda as to
where the next murder will be committed, perhaps to let her know
that he is playing psychic by predicting her murder ---
and guaranteeing success of that prediction. He leaves mysterious
clues, two sets of decimal numbers, the better to baffle Lucinda.
He taunts former FBI agent Vic Shattuck, who is writing a book
about the Night Watchman murders, with “I’M BACK”
written in red lipstick and mailed to his house.

The Night Watchman sets up fake online newspaper websites,
giving exact details of a murder he plans to execute, so that
Lucinda is at the scene immediately after the crime is committed,
giving investigators cause to believe she is somewhat more than
clairvoyant. The attempts fail, bolstering Lucinda’s alibis
for multiple homicides, for which she’s a borderline suspect.
Not-so-subtle clues are strewn about like wildflowers. Or are they
herrings red as Lucinda’s lipstick?

Lucinda’s hair --- her DNA --- is planted in the death
grip of chalky hands, as though the dying hand had grasped her
hair. Detective Frank Santiago thinks Lucinda is orchestrating
serial killings to bolster fame as the Sexy Soothsayer. A dramatic
scene shakes the foundation of this premise, as Lucinda
“sees” that Santiago’s claimed “touch of
pneumonia” is rapidly metastasizing lung cancer. Santiago now
knows that Lucinda really is psychic, and his following the Night
Watchman’s red-herring leads allowed many more murders.

The motivation for the Night Watchman's obsessive fascination
with killing women who wear scarlet lipstick is told in a surprise
scene that will keep readers of this review --- among other things
--- dangling.

Initially confusing, Staub’s use of third person present
tense and sentence-paragraphs are as substantial as Lucinda’s
“usual breakfast: Cap’n Crunch or Frosted Flakes,
coffee, and a can of Pepsi.” Staub has a unique, strong style
that pulls the reader into Lucinda’s world. Her funny, clever
style is displayed in a scene where Lucinda fears for her life and
Detective Neal Reingold asks, “What are you doing
today?”

“Let’s see... Sitting at home, reading magazines,
eating stale marshmallow Peeps, and waiting for something terrible
to happen. That’s pretty much it.”

“That’s not good.”

“I like them stale. I leave the packages open on purpose.
They get this crunchy crust of sugar that I really...”

“I’m not talking about the Peeps. I’m talking
about the waiting for something terrible to happen.”

“Oh --- I’m just kidding, Neal.”

“No, you’re not.”

“You’re right. I’m not.”

An easy read with fast-paced intrigue, DEAD BEFORE DARK is
dead-on with thrills and spills, like Disney World’s Space
Mountain.

Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy (DeanMurphy@Verizon.net) on December 29, 2010

Dead Before Dark
by Wendy Corsi Staub

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Zebra
  • ISBN-10: 1420101323
  • ISBN-13: 9781420101324