James Lilliefors’s unlikely detective duo, Pastor Luke Bowers and homicide investigator Amy Hunter, return in a new murder mystery set in Maryland’s picturesque Tidewater County
Tourists like Susan Champlain pass through the Chesapeake Bay region every year. But when Susan pays Pastor Luke Bowers a visit, he’s disturbed by what she shares with him. Her husband has a short temper, she says, and recently threatened to make her “disappear” because of a photo Susan took on her phone.
Luke is concerned enough to tip off Tidewater County’s chief homicide investigator, Amy Hunter. That night, Susan’s body is found at the foot of the Widow’s Point bluff. Hunter soon discovers Susan left behind clues that may connect her fate to a series of killings in the Northeast, a powerful criminal enterprise, and to a missing Rembrandt masterpiece,The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Whoever is behind the killings has created a storm of deception and betrayal, a deliberate “tempest” designed to obscure the truth. Now Hunter and Bowers must join forces to trace the dangerous secret glimpsed in Susan’s photo. But will they be the next targets on a killer’s deadly agenda . . . ?
“Miracles. What can I tell you? In a skeptical world, if a real miracle occurred, it wouldn’t even make the evening news. Who would believe it? This one, though, will be different. This one, the skeptics won’t be able to explain. People will want to see for themselves; they’ll line up around the block to have a look. That’s what we need to talk about.”
Walter Kepler watched his attorney’s own skepticism harden slightly as he waited on the details of Kepler’s plan. Jacob Weber was used to this, to Kepler’s Barnum-like enthusiasms as he introduced a new idea. Weber had precise, dark eyes, a narrow face, bristly white hair cut close to the scalp. Seen from behind, he could appear as small and fragile as a child. But he also possessed that rarest of human qualities—consistent good judgment; unerringly good, in Kepler’s estimation.
As presented, Kepler’s plan consisted of three parts: A sells a painting to B; B sells the painting to C; and C (who was Kepler) uses the painting to bring about a “miracle.” The first two parts of the plan he would handle himself, with the assistance of Nicholas Champlain and, of course, Belasco. It was for third part that he needed Jacob Weber’s help—needed his judgment, and, ultimately, his skills as a negotiator.
Kepler had been formulating versions of this plan in his head since he was a boy, trailing his father through the great art museums of the Northeast and Europe, stopping to stare at some painting or sculpture that, his father insisted, was not only an important work but also a masterpiece. With time, Kepler had learned to tell the difference, to understand why certain paintings—like certain people, and ideas—held greater intrinsic value than others. He had spent much of his adult life refining that understanding, through the storms of sudden wealth, divorce and the more mundane trials of daily living.
When he finished telling Weber his plan, Kepler turned the conversation to the painting. He watched Weber’s face flush with a new interest as he described the masterpiece that had dominated his thoughts for the past three weeks, ever since he’d ascertained that it was the real thing. The tempest. Fourteen men trapped on a boat. Each responds differently to a life-threatening storm: one trying valiantly to fix the main sail, another cowering in terror from the waves, one calmly steering the rudder. Fourteen men, fourteen reactions. Kepler imagined how his attorney would react once the waters began to churn in another several months.
Then Kepler sat back and let Jacob Weber voice his concerns. They were much as he had expected—candid, well-reasoned, occasionally surprising. Kepler managed to fend off most; those he couldn’t, he stored away.
“So what are we looking at?” his attorney asked. “When would it need to happen?”
Kepler glanced at Weber’s right hand, absently tracing the stem of the coffee cup. It was a pleasant April morning, the bay shivering with whitecaps.
“Late summer,” he said. “August, I’m thinking.”
His attorney thought about that, showing no expression. Calculating how the plan would interrupt and impact his own life, no doubt. Jacob Weber finally closed and opened his eyes. He nodded. “It’s do-able,” he said. After a thoughtful pause, he added, “Actually, I kind of like it.”
Weber’s response would have sounded lukewarm to an outsider. To Kepler, it was a hearty endorsement. In fact, he had never known Jacob Weber to be quite so enthusiastic about one of his ideas. All in all, it was a very good start.
About the Author
James Lilliefors is the author of the geopolitical thriller novels The Leviathan Effect and Viral. A journalist and novelist who grew up near Washington, D.C., Lilliefors is also the author of three nonfiction books. The Psalmist and The Tempest are the first two books in the Luke Bowers and Amy Hunter series