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These were the last words written in Lauren Novak’s notebook before she was murdered in a strange Florida village. They’ve never meant anything to the police or to her husband, investigator Markus Novak. Now the man he believes killed her is out of prison, and draws Markus to the place he’s avoided for so long: the lonely road where his wife was shot to death beneath the cypress trees and Spanish moss in a town called Cassadaga.
In Red Lodge, Montana, a senseless act of vandalism shuts the lights off in the town where Sabrina Baldwin is still trying to adjust to a new home and mourning the loss of her brother, who was a high voltage linesman just like her husband, Jay. As the spring’s final snowstorm calls Jay deeper into the mountains, chasing the destruction on the electrical grid, Sabrina is abducted by Garland Webb, the man Markus Novak believes killed his wife. Drawing them all together is a messianic villain who understands that you can never outpace your past. You can only rise against the future.
Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.
The mind of every assassin runs on a narrow-gauge track. But there are no loners. No man lives in a void. His every act is conditioned by his time and his society.
The Death of a President
The snow had been falling for three days above six thousand feet, but it had been gentle and the lines stayed up. At this point in the season, after a long Montana winter that showed no signs of breaking, Sabrina Baldwin considered that a gift.
Then, on the fourth day, the wind rose.
And the lights blinked.
They were both awake, listening to that howling, shrieking wind. When the omnipresent hum of electrical appliances in the house vanished and the glow of the alarm clock went with it only to return a few seconds later, they both said, "One," in unison, and laughed.
It was a lesson she'd learned in their first home in Billings, watching the lights take two hard blinks during a storm, Jay explaining that the system would respond to trouble by opening and closing circuits, automatically testing the significance of the fault before shutting things down altogether. You'd get maybe one blink, maybe two, but never three. Not on that system, at least.
In their new home in Red Lodge, the glow and hum of an electrified existence went off once more, then came back on.
"Two," they said.
Everything was as it should be—the alarm clock blinked, waiting to be reset, but the power stayed on and the furnace came back to life. Sabrina slid her hands over Jay's chest and arms. For five fleeting seconds, it seemed the system had healed itself, that all would be well, and no one would need to travel out into the storm.
Then the electricity went out again, and they both groaned. The problems of the world outside had just moved inside, announcing themselves through the staggered blinks like knocks on the door.
"The phone will ring now," Jay said. "Damn it."
Sabrina shifted her chest onto his and kissed his throat. "Then let's not waste time."
They didn't. The phone rang before they were finished, but they ignored it. She would remember that moment with odd clarity for the rest of her life—the unique silence of the house in the power outage, the cold howling wind working outside, the warmth of her husband's neck as she pressed her face against it, each of them so lost in the other that even the shrill sound of the phone caused no interruption.
The phone rang again when they were done, and he swore under his breath, kissed her, and then slipped out from under the covers, leaving her alone and still breathless in their bed.
A new bed, new sheets, new everything. She was grateful for the simplicity of Jay's scent, the only thing that was not new, not different. They'd moved to Red Lodge only two months ago, and while everyone told her she'd appreciate its beauty, she still found the mountains menacing rather than enticing.
When winter finally yielded to spring, her view of the place would improve. She had to believe that. Right now, all she knew was that they'd managed to move somewhere that made Billings seem like a big city, and that wasn't an easy feat.
She could hear his side of the conversation, providing a strange blend of breaking news and the customary—storms, lines down, substations, circuits. Even the bad pun was familiar: We sure don't want the hospital to lose patience.
A joke that he'd told, and his father had told, and his grandfather. It gave her a sense of the situation, though. The outages were bad enough that the hospital was running on backup generators. This meant he'd be gone for a while. In weather like this, the repairs were rarely quick fixes. Not in Montana.
She followed him downstairs and brewed coffee while he explained what was going on, his eyes far away. She knew he was thinking of the map and the grid, trying to orient the issues before he rolled out. One of his greatest concerns lately was that he wasn't familiar enough with the regional grid. In Billings, he'd known every substation, every step-down transformer, probably every insulator.
"It'll be a long day," he said. He pulled on his insulated boots while sitting in the kitchen that still felt foreign enough to Sabrina that she often reached for the wrong drawer or opened the wrong cupboard. It was a lovely home, though, with a gorgeous view of the mountains. Or at least, it would be gorgeous in the summer. The windows that Jay loved so much because they looked out at the breathtaking Beartooth Mountains were facing the wrong direction as far as Sabrina was concerned. The worst of the storms blew down out of those mountains, and here they could see them coming. She wished the kitchen windows faced east, catching the sunrise instead of the oncoming storms.
She was so sick of the storms.
Jay, meanwhile, was looking out the windows right now, and damned if he wasn't smiling. The peaks were invisible, cloaked with low-lying clouds, and the wind rattled a snow-and-ice mixture off the glass.
"Enjoy that snow while you've got it," she said. "This may be the last one of the season."
"Brett told me that last year they closed the pass in mid-June for fourteen inches."
She struggled to keep her tone light, to use the good-natured kind of sarcasm, not the biting kind. They'd moved here for her, after all. Had left Billings because Jay was willing to give up the job he loved for her peace of mind. Out there, he'd been a member of a barehanding crew, an elite high-voltage repair team that worked on live lines up in the flash zone, perching like birds on wires pulsing with deadly current. In November, they'd learned just how deadly.
Sabrina had met Jay through her brother, Tim. They'd been coworkers, although that term wasn't strong enough. They were more like Special Ops team members than colleagues. Every call-out was a mission where death waited. The bonds were different in that kind of work, ran deeper, and her always-protective older brother voiced nothing but approval of Jay. She'd met Jay at a barbecue, had their first date a week later, and were married a year after that. Someone put tiny high-voltage poles next to the bride and groom on their wedding cake, and they assumed that was the extent of the prank. It wasn't. The miniature lines actually carried a low-voltage current that Tim energized just as Jay went to cut the cake. Jay had jumped nearly a foot in the air, and the rest of the crew fell to the floor laughing.
For several years, that was how it went. Tim and Jay were closer than most brothers. Then came November. A routine call-out. Tim on the line making a simple repair, confident that it wasn't energized. What he didn't know was that less than a mile away, someone was firing up a massive gas generator, unwilling to wait on the repairs. The generator, improperly installed, a home-wired job, created a back feed. For an instant, as Tim held the wire in his hands, the harmless line went live again.
He'd died at the top of the pole. Jay had climbed up to bring his body down.
Three weeks after the funeral, Jay told Sabrina he was done with the barehanding work. There was a foreman's job open in Red Lodge, and taking it meant he'd stay on the ground, always, and she would never have to think of him climbing a pole again, never have to worry about the job claiming her husband as well as her brother.
"Love you," he said, rising from the table.
She kissed him one last time. "Love you too."
He went into the garage and she heard his truck start and then she pulled open the front door and stood in the howling wind so she could wave good-bye. He tapped the horn twice, the Road Runner good-bye—beep-beep—and was gone. She shut the door feeling both annoyed and guilty, as she always did when he went out in weather like this, torn between the fear of what waited out there for him and the knowledge that she should be proud of the work he did.
She was proud too. She really was. This winter had been worse than most, that was all. The pain of losing Tim compounded by the tumult of moving—those things were to blame for her discontent, not Red Lodge. The snow would melt and summer would come. The coffee shop she'd owned in Billings wouldn't have lasted anyhow. The landlord had been ready to sell, Sabrina hadn't found a good replacement location, and so summer in Billings had loomed ominously. Now summer was promising; she'd already found good real estate for a new location, and she had the peace of knowing that, whatever happened out there today, her husband would stay on the ground.
Red Lodge was a fresh start.
He called the first time at noon. She was outside shoveling the walk, out of breath when she answered.
"We lost a sixty-nine kV line just off the highway," he reported.
That translated to 69 kilovolts, which meant 69,000 volts. A standard home ran on 110 or 220 volts.
"The work is going fast so far, though, and the forecasts are good," Jay said.
She'd seen that. An Alberta clipper was blowing down out of Canada, drying out the air. The snow had tapered off and the roads were passable. At least up to Red Lodge, they were passable. Beyond, as the highway snaked toward eleven thousand feet, the pass had been closed for six months and would be for another two.
"Maybe there's a chance of a normal dinner," she said.
"Maybe." His voice held optimism.
A few hours later, it didn't.
The call at five was shorter than the first, and he was distressed.
"Definitely going to be a late one."
"Really?" She was surprised, because the storm had died off around one, and their power was back on.
"Never seen anything like it. Somebody's cutting trees so they fall into the lines. We're getting faults farther and farther up into the mountains, and they're cut trees, every time. Chain saws and some asshole on a snowmobile having himself a hell of a time, dropping trees onto the lines, keeping just out in front of us like some kid playing tag. We put one up, he cuts one down."
"Are the police there?"
"Haven't seen them yet. I'd tell you I'm almost done, but right now, I don't have any idea. They're fresh cuts; I could still see the sawdust in the snow on the last one. It's the damnedest thing…they've got a pattern, pulling us farther out of town. Whoever's doing it is probably watching me send my crew up on the poles and having a laugh."
Fatigue was often a factor in deaths on the lines, and the idea of Jay's team, men like her brother, climbing pole after pole in a snowstorm, gradually wearing down, all because of someone's vandalism was infuriating.
"I've got to go," he said. "Hopefully this asshole's chain saw is about out of gas. Actually, I hope his snowmobile is. I'd like to meet this guy."
She wished him luck, hung up, and, sweaty and tired, went upstairs to take a shower. At the top of the steps, she turned and looked back at the mountains, wondering where in them he was. They were already dark.
What's the point? she thought. Mindless behavior, drunk boys with powerful toys. But dangerous.
She wanted it to be mindless, at least. But as the water heated up and the room filled with steam and she stepped into the shower, she found that Jay's words were unsettling her more than the actual facts. It was how he'd described the fallen trees as pulling us farther out of town.
When she came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a nightgown, a cloud of steam traveling through the door with her, she understood in an immediate, primal way exactly why it had disturbed her.
There was a man sitting on her bed wearing snowmobile clothes, goggles hanging around his neck and a pistol in his hand.
Sabrina didn't scream, just reacted without thinking, recognition at warp speed—Threat is in the bedroom, phone is in the bedroom, escape is through the bedroom, so retreat is the only option—and she stumbled backward and slid the door shut. It was a pocket door, most of the interior doors in their new home were, and when they'd viewed the house she'd told the real estate agent how much she liked them. Now she hated them, because the pocket door had no real lock, just a flimsy latch that her frantic hands couldn't maneuver, and she could hear the sound of the man leaving the bed and approaching. She barely got her hands out of the way before he kicked the door, and the lock turned into a twisted shard of metal as the door blew off its track and the frame splintered. A large, gloved hand reached in and grasped the edge of the door and shoved it backward and now Sabrina was out of options. Everything that could save her was beyond him, and she wouldn't get beyond him. He was so large that he filled the door frame, and even though his clothing was unusually bulky, she could tell that he was massive beneath it. He had dark, emotionless eyes and his hair was shaved down to stubble against his thick skull.
"Who are you?" she said. It was the only question that mattered to her in that moment. His identity, not his intention, because the gun announced his intention.
"My name is Garland Webb." His voice was deep, and the words came slow and echoed in the tiled room. "I am very tired. I had to make a long journey in a short time for you."
"What do you want?"
"We harnessed air for this," he said, as if that answered her question. "That's all we need. People think they need so much more. People are wrong."
Then he lifted the pistol and shot her.
There was a soft pop and hiss and then a stab of pain in her stomach. She screamed, finally, screamed high and loud and long and he let her do it, never moving from the doorway. He just lowered the pistol and watched with a half smile as she fell back against the wall, and her hands moved to her stomach, searching for the wound, the source of the pain. Her fingers brushed something strange, soft and almost friendly to the touch, and she looked down and saw the arrow sticking out of her belly just below her ribs. No, not an arrow. Too small. It had a metal shaft and a plastic tube that faded to small, angled pieces of soft, plastic-like feathers. A dart.
She felt warmth unfolding through her body and thought, Something was in that and now it's in me, oh my God, what was in there? and she tried to pull it free from her stomach. It didn't come loose, just stretched her skin and increased the pain and drew the first visible blood. The thin blue fabric of her nightgown kept her from seeing the point of the dart clearly, but she could feel what it was—there was a barb on the end, just like a fishhook, something to anchor it in her flesh.
"Air," the big man with the dead eyes said again, sounding immensely pleased, and the unfolding warmth within Sabrina reached her brain, and her vision swam and there was a buzzing crescendo in her ears like the inside of a hornet's nest. She looked up from the dart, trying to find the man, trying to ask why.
She slid down the wall and fell against the toilet, unconscious, with the question still on her lips.
The man who'd been accused of murdering Markus Novak's wife was in prison for the sexual assault of another woman when a talented young public defender won his freedom by pointing out a series of legal errors that had robbed Garland Webb of his right to a fair trial.
Mark wasn't present for the judge's ruling. He was on a fishing charter out of Key West with his mentor and former employer, Jeff London. The fishing trip was London's idea. Whatever happened in the appeal, he said, did not affect the case Mark was trying to build. Whether Garland Webb was in prison or out of prison, he still hadn't been convicted of Lauren's murder. That was the next step.
It all made good sense, but Mark knew the real reason that he'd been invited out on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico while Garland Webb learned his fate: He'd had a few too many conversations with Jeff on the topic and made a few too many promises. The promises involved bullets in Garland's head, and Jeff believed them.
Upon winning appeal and earning his release, Garland Webb met one last time with his attorney, a young gun named John Graham who considered the case his most significant victory to date. The prosecutor had made a series of egregious errors en route to conviction, so Graham had always felt good about his legal argument, but you never could be sure of a win when the original conviction involved a heinous crime. At that point you needed more than the law on your side, you needed to be able to sell it, and John Graham had put all of his considerable powers of persuasion into the case. He also felt good about the appellate victory for the simple reason that it was right. His client had not been granted a fair trial, and John Graham believed deeply in the purity of the process.
All the same…
He was troubled by Garland Webb.
In their final meeting, John offered his best attempt at a warm smile and extended his hand to his client. "Sometimes, the system works," he said. "How does it feel to be a free man, Garland?"
Webb regarded him with eyes so expressionless they seemed opaque. He was six four and weighed 230 pounds, and when he accepted the handshake, John felt a sick chill at the power in his grip.
"I guess you're not the celebrating sort," he said, because Garland still hadn't uttered a word. "Do you have everything you need? There's a release-assistance program that will—"
"I have everything I need."
"All right. I'm sure it will be a relief to walk out of here."
"Just back to business," Garland Webb said.
"It's time for me to get back to business. No more diversions."
"Right," John said, though he had no idea what Webb meant, and he was uncomfortable with what he might mean.
Webb fixed the flat-eyed stare on him and said, "I have a purpose, understand? This detour was unfortunate, but it did not remove my purpose."
"Right," John repeated. "I'm just supposed to let you know that if you need assistance finding a job or locating a—"
"I'm going back to the same job," Webb said.
John fell silent. He'd spent several months on this case and he knew damn well that Garland Webb had been unemployed at the time of his arrest.
"Where will you be working?" he asked, and Garland Webb smiled. It was little more than a twitch of the lip, but it was more emotion than he'd displayed when the judge had announced the verdict in his favor.
"I've got opportunities," he said. "Don't you worry about that."
"Great," John said, and suddenly he was eager to get out of the room and away from this man. "Stay out of trouble, Garland."
"You too, John."
John Graham left before Garland did, although he'd initially intended to stay with him through the process all the way up to the point of escorting him out of the prison. That no longer felt right. In fact, winning the freedom of Garland Webb suddenly didn't feel like much of a victory at all.
On the day Webb collected his belongings and walked to a bus station, before he left, he bribed a guard to send a message to another inmate at Coleman. The message got through, and the inmate requested a phone call. Seven miles off the southernmost shore of the United States, Markus Novak's cell rang.
They'd been having a good day of it, but in the afternoon the fishing had slowed; the Gulf of Mexico began churning with high swells, and Jeff London turned a shade of green that matched the water.
"Bad sandwich," he said, and Mark smiled and nodded.
"Bad sandwich, eh?"
"I don't get seasick."
"Of course not."
When Jeff put his head in his hands, Mark laughed and set his rod down and moved to the bow, where he stood and stared at the horizon line, the endless expanse of water broken only by whitecapped waves. All of his memories of the sea were good, because all of them involved Lauren. Sometimes, though, when the light and the wind were right, the sea reminded him of other endless places. Expansive plains of the West; windblown wheat instead of water; storm-blasted buttes.
Not so many of those memories were good.
He'd been watching the water for a while when he heard the ring, a soft chime, and the charter captain, who was lounging with his feet up and a cigar in his mouth, said, "That's yours, bud."
Mark found the phone in his jacket pocket, and he remained relaxed, warm and comfortable and with his mind on this boat and this day, until he saw the caller ID: COLEMAN CORRECTIONAL.
For an instant he just stared, but then he realized he was about to lose the call to voice mail, so he hit Accept and put the phone to his ear.
He knew the voice on the other end. It was a man he'd spoken to many times, a snitch who'd contacted Mark for legal help, which Mark provided in exchange for a tip on who killed his wife. The police didn't believe the story; the snitch held to it.
"He sent me a note, Novak. For you. For both of us. Here's what it says: 'Please tell Mr. Novak that his efforts were a disappointment, and every threat was only so much wasted breath. I'd hoped for more. Let him know that I'll think of him outside this prison just as I thought of him inside it, and, more important, that I'll think of her. The way she felt at the end. I'll treasure that moment. It's a shame he wasn't there for it. She was so beautiful at the end.'"
The man on the phone had once beaten someone to death with an aluminum baseball bat, but his voice wavered as he read the last words. When he was done, he waited, and Mark didn't speak. The silence built as the boat rose and fell on the waves, and finally the other man said, "I thought you'd want to know."
"Yes," Mark said. "I want to know. It is important that I know." His voice was hollow, and Jeff London lifted his head with a concerned expression. "Is that all he had to say?"
"That's all. He's made some threats to me, you know that, but ain't shit happened, so maybe he's all talk. Maybe about…about this too, you know? Just one of them that likes to claim shit to make themselves feel hard. I've known them before."
"You told me you didn't think he was that kind," Mark said. "You said you knew better. You said he was telling the truth."
A pause; then: "I remember what I said."
"Anything changed your opinion?"
"All right. Thanks for the call. I'll send money to your commissary account."
"Don't need to, not for this. I just thought…well, you needed to hear it."
"I'll send money," Mark repeated, and then he hung up. Jeff was staring at him, and the charter captain was making a show of working with his tackle, his back to them.
"That was about Webb?" Jeff said.
Mark nodded. He found the horizon line again but couldn't focus on it.
"He's taunting me. He killed her, he knows that I know it, and he's a free man. He wanted to let me know that he'll be thinking of me, and her. From outside of a cell now."
"It's a dumb play. He'll go back to prison."
"Yeah?" Mark turned to him. "Where is he?"
"Don't let this take you back to the dark side, brother. You've got to build a case, and you've got to—"
"Someone has to settle the score for her."
Jeff's face darkened. "There are lots of tombstones standing over men who made proclamations like that."
"I don't want a tombstone. When I'm gone, you take the ashes wherever you'd like. Just make sure there's a strong wind blowing. I want to have a chance to travel."
"That's a bad joke."
"It's not a joke at all," Mark said. "I hope you remember the request should the need ever arise." He looked at the charter captain. "You mind bringing us in a couple hours early?"
The captain looked from Mark to Jeff and shook his head when no objection was raised. "It's your nickel, bud."
- One of the Best Books of 2016: Michael Connelly, New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews
- "A superb thriller literally humming and buzzing with power and tension, given depth and resonance by Koryta's fascination with pitting lone human emotion against a vast and forbidding landscape."—Lee Child
- "This book arrived with high praise from several stars of the genre--"A master," says Stephen King; "Outstanding," adds Lee Child--and they're right. Rise the Dark is both first-rate entertainment and an unusually interesting thriller in terms of its characters, its plot and the ideas it explores, which include the electrical grid, Tesla's history, spiritualism, and the nation's possible vulnerability to a right-wing takeover."—Washington Post
- "Among his many gifts, Michael Koryta is a virtuoso in his use of outdoor settings... his thrillers present the great outdoors in their most frightening aspects. The book's atmospheric power and strong cast of supporting characters make Rise the Dark compelling from the get-go."—Chicago Tribune
- "Welcome to Michael Koryta's latest nightmare.... Wonderfully eerie scenes... [and] distinct thrills." —Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
- "Koryta always uses setting to great effect in his bestselling thrillers... In Rise The Dark, Koryta again constructs a hold-your-breath thriller around believable characters and the bonds, familial and romantic and ideological, that bind them. It's a wild ride."—Tampa Bay Times
- "Koryta has a gift for terrific suspense that immerses the reader while also delivering prose that almost reads like poetry....[A] road that should definitely be traveled."—Associated Press
- "For fans of darker mystery and suspense, you won't be disappointed."—Marion Star
- "A frightening thriller about the holes in our infrastructure and the security protecting it. In this second Markus Novak novel, following 2015's Last Words, Koryta effectively combines a compelling premise, a villain who seems too smart to be stopped, and a revealing look at the hero's dysfunctional family."—Booklist
- "As with his spellbinding 2014 effort, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Koryta employs the desolate Montana setting with such mastery and deep sense of mystery that it's a compelling character itself. And with an intriguing cody that reverberates with themes of family, myth, and psychic possibility, this new novel leaves us keenly anticipating the next installment of the Novak saga. Again proving himself one of today's top thriller writers, Koryta creates edgy suspense not with trickery but with characters who test the limits of their courage."—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
- "[With] a compelling narrative, relatable characters, and action scenes that play out like a blockbuster film, Koryta has written his best book to date. Highly recommended for fans of the author and readers of Dan Brown and Dennis Lehane."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "Michael Koryta has done a fine job with Rise The Dark as he presents his most suspenseful novel since the terrific Those Who Wish Me Dead. At times his writing has toed the line between suspense and the supernatural. This is a thriller of the highest caliber that will dare readers to put it down before reaching the exciting climax."—BookReporter
- "Michael Koryta is very creative in his creation of characters, but he is even more successful in his establishment of place." —Huffington Post
- "Rise The Dark is a powerfully written and fast moving novel...a perfect end of summer read."—LitReactor
- On Sale
- May 1, 2018
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Back Bay Books