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Fiction Police Procedural

The Sweet Goodbye

by (author) Ron Corbett

Penguin Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Apr 2022
Police Procedural, Nature & the Environment, Crime
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2022
    List Price

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In this thrilling new series from Edgar®-nominated author Ron Corbett, the most dangerous predator in the Maine wilderness walks on two feet—and it is Danny Barrett's job to bring him down.

Something is not right in the North Maine Woods.
A small family-run lumber company should not have more than two hundred million unaccountable dollars on their books. Money like that comes from moving something other than wood across the border. 

The first agent the FBI sent undercover was their best man—sure to get the answers that were needed. He was dead within a month. 
Now, Danny Barrett is taking his place. Before he was a cop, Danny grew up in the woods of Northern Michigan. He is the only chance the feds have of getting answers, but how many more will have to die first?

About the author

Ron Corbett is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster whose writing has won numerous prizes, including two National Newspaper Awards. Previously, he published the books The Last Guide and A Grand Adventure. Corbett has taught journalism at Carleton University and has worked for the Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, and CHUM Radio. He lives in Manotick, Ontario.

Ron Corbett's profile page

Excerpt: The Sweet Goodbye (by (author) Ron Corbett)



Travis Lee left the Starlight Club and stumbled toward the cab pulling up to the curb. He bounced off the rear panel, bounced off it again, then found the door latch and steadied himself. He turned to the woman beside him and yelled, "Ta-da!"


After that, he opened the door and fell inside.


The woman didn't move. She was a tall woman dressed in a full-length mink coat that shimmered beneath the neon lights outside the nightclub, made the fur look like a gasoline spill rippling upon dark water. In a few seconds the cabbie got out to see what was happening. He looked at the woman, then at the open door, then leaned in the car and gave Lee a shake. When he stood up, the woman asked, "Is he passed out?"


"I don't think so, ma'am. He's not snoring or anything."


"Trav, darling," she yelled into the cab, "you need to put your legs inside the car. The man can't wait here all night."


But there was no answer. "I'll give him another shake," said the cabbie. "What's his name?"


"Travis Lee."




"No, I'm just having fun with you. Can't you see I'm having fun?"


The cabbie looked startled; then he blushed and put his head back inside the cab. "Mr. Lee, your wife can't get in. You need to sit up, sir. . . . Sir, do you hear me?"


The woman pursed her lips and waited; in anger or anticipation, it was difficult to tell. She had lips that might always leave you guessing about something like that. Eventually she bent her head and whispered something in the cabbie's ear.


His body twitched as she was talking, but when she was finished, he nodded, grabbed Lee's legs and started pulling him from the cab. When he was halfway out, the woman grabbed one of the legs and helped finish the job. They slowed a bit when Lee's head was coming out, but not enough to stop it from bouncing off the curb. It was a low curb. They slowed. There was still a bounce.


When he was laid out on the sidewalk, the woman stepped over him and got into the cab. The cabbie looked around a second-embarrassed, it was easy enough to tell-but when his eyes stopped darting around, he ran to his door, got in and drove away. Through the rear window, Amanda Lee could be seen shaking snow off the collar of her coat.



Damn, that was cold.


I looked at the departing cab. Back at Travis Lee. Almost a Muddy Waters song. March in Northern Maine? It was still cold enough to kill someone if they were left passed out on a sidewalk for the night.


I looked around but saw that the cabbie had been right. No one else was outside the nightclub. Last call in twenty minutes and not a car in the parking lot except mine, parked twenty feet from the front entrance. Good chance it was going to stay that way.


I reached inside my jacket pocket for my phone, about to make an anonymous 911 call. If that could have happened-that simple act of placing a phone call-a lot of things would have played out different in Birmingham. I'm not saying some people would still be alive, or that failure would have become success-nothing as grand as that-but it would have been different, what happened, and probably not as bad.


What did happen that night was three men suddenly came running down Delco Street. It looked like they were trying to make last call at the Starlight. They were dressed in dark green factory pants, heavy work boots and plaid jackets. They ran past Lee-lying there in his blue suit and camelhair overcoat, shiny black shoes pointing toes up like garden spikes-looked at him but kept going.


I watched them make the front door of the Starlight but not go through. Watched them stare over their shoulders, talk amongst themselves, laugh and, just like I knew they would, watched them come walking back.


Damn. This really is a Muddy Waters song.



They had surrounded Lee by the time I got there. Two of the men were staring at him. One of them was a fat man with a belly so large, it had the contours of a baby seal. The other was whippet thin, with dark cratered skin and sunken cheeks, restless eyes that darted around like mercury droplets. A bad meth addict. The third was a boy: a teenager poking Lee with the toe of his work boot, chuckling and waiting to see what might happen.


"Evening, boys. Want a hand getting him back in a cab?" I asked.


The boy put his boot down and looked at me. His face was covered in zits, half of them popped, so there were blood trickles on his cheeks. His skin was pale, and with the red lines on his face, he had the coloring of a clown.


"Look like a four-man job to you?" he said.


"You never know. He looks like a big enough lad."


"Thanks, pal. We got it covered."


"Are you sure? I figure a workingman can always use an extra hand. Know what I mean?"


The boy looked at me with an expression so curious and uncomprehending, I felt a pang of sadness. This was a kid who needed things simple and linear, no curves, nothing unexpected. We stared at each other a few seconds but it was the fat man who eventually said, "You're too late, asshole. Bugger off."


"Bugger off? What are you talking about? I'm just here offering to help."


"Help yourself to his pockets, I'm bettin'. It ain't happenin' for you, buddy."


"What the- Are you accusing me of being a thief?"


"I ain't accusing you of nothin', asshole. What I'm telling you is that if you don't fuck off right now, I'm gonna stomp your head till you're stupid. You missed your chance. Come back trollin' another night."


His friends laughed when he said this and the fat man broke into a broad smile. Their laughter continued for several seconds until they noticed I wasn't leaving.


"Are you fuckin' thick?" said the fat man, taking a step toward me. But the whippet didn't move. He licked his lips and turned to stare at the front door of the Starlight. The clown boy did the same.


It would just be the fat man.


When the swing came, it was a haymaker and that's what I'd been expecting, had already placed my bet on by the way I was leaning, so that when it came I could step under it easily, be in a crouching position when I brought my fist up at a perfect sixty-degree arc, at double the normal traveling distance for an uppercut. Landing it right where a man would never want a punch like that to land.


The fat man grabbed his groin and tottered several seconds before he fell. When he did fall, it was sideways, and slowly, like a felled tree might fall if it got tangled up in the branches of another tree.


Several seconds passed after that before he screamed. When it came it was like the screaming of late-stage childbirth. He was still screaming like that, his friends dragging him into the shadows surrounding the nightclub, when I heard a man's voice say, "Well, that was rather fun to watch. Why in the world did you bother?"


I looked down at Travis Lee. He was sitting now, rubbing his head and looking at me. I thought of the best way to answer his question. Decided to go with a partial truth.


"I work for you, Mr. Lee."




A light snow had started falling and Lee looked up and down Delco Street. Looking for his cab, looking for his wife, looking for more men approaching-I wasn't sure. He didn't seem in a hurry. Didn't seem surprised that he had just awoken on a sidewalk outside a nightclub. either "You work for me?"


"Only been with you a little while, Mr. Lee. I'm a tree marker. Working your Algoma Limits right now."


I could see now that Travis Lee looked like his surveillance photos. Sometimes there's a discrepancy and you wonder about that later-the things a camera can't seem to catch-but with Lee there were no surprises. He looked like the photos-fifty-five years old, a prosperous middle-aged ex-jock, still with a full head of blond hair, more girth around the middle than when he'd played college football for Harvard, but still handsome in a middle-aged-jock way.


If you had to guess his occupation, you might have said lawyer and you would have been right with your first guess. Although being born in Birmingham, Maine, meant Travis Lee was also part of the family business-Lee Forestry Products, one of the oldest lumber companies on the Northeastern Seaboard.


"Do you need another cab?" I asked. "I think the first one has gone."


"Appears my wife has gone as well. What's your name, pal?"


"Danny Barrett."


"Give me a hand up, will you? Seems I owe you a drink. Let's go inside and I'll settle my account."



We walked to the back of the Starlight and sat on stools. The nightclub I found out later was built in the '40s and looked it: a large club laid out for big bands and jitterbug dancing, with the floor in front, a stage beyond that, circular tables fanning out from the dance floor all the way to the back of the room, where the bar was. There were chandeliers, a fading mural of a starry night and red leather booths big enough to seat six people easy.


A gilt-edged mirror hung behind the bar, with tall shelves of liquor bottles spaced about every six feet. The club even had two wooden phone booths, the ones with the accordion doors and inside seats. The phones still worked. The phone books were from 2002.


We sat at the bar and Lee ordered a McCallum's neat with Pabst chaser. I told the bartender I'd have the same. "The Algoma Limits," Lee said when our drinks arrived. "That must mean you're working out of the Sleigh Bay mill. I haven't been to that mill in months. How come you know me?"


"Birmingham isn't that big a city, Mr. Lee. Anyone in town richer than you?"


"My brother. My wife one day, maybe."


"Well, I know you, Mr. Lee. I suspect everyone in Birmingham knows you. That was your wife who left in the cab?"


"Tall, good-looking woman in a ridiculous fur coat?"


"Don't know about the fur coat part, but the rest of it sounds right."


"Yes, that would have been the lovely Amanda. Appears she has jumped ship on us, Mr. Barrett. We shall have to continue the voyage without her."


He laughed when he said that, and then he took a swallow of his Scotch. His face winced when the liquid hit the back of his throat, his body shivered for a second, but then his jaw went slack, his eyes closed and, when they reopened, he looked happy. "You're not from around here, are you?"


"That obvious? No, I'm from Detroit."


"That's an odd place for a tree marker to come from."


"My uncle owned a lumber company in the Upper Peninsula, near Escanaba. Spent my summers working there when I was a boy. He taught me how to do it. He told me once that a man who can work a timber limit and mark only the best pine, the best cedar, the man that could do that was worth more to him than a busload of Harvard business graduates."


"My father would have agreed with him," said Lee. "He sent my brother into the camps, to learn stuff like that, but Tuck never took to it. With me, he didn't even bother. Sent me straight to Harvard."


"Oh, shit, I'm sorry Mr. Lee," I said. I knew Lee had gone to Harvard. I didn't mind looking clumsy right then.


"Don't sweat it. I've heard plenty of Harvard jokes," he said, and motioned to the bartender for another round. "So what was it like growing up in Detroit?"


"Great. Say Detroit today and people feel sorry for you, but I remember when there wasn't a boarded-up store anywhere. The clubs were booming. I walked into a club once and Ben E. King was playing. He had a full horn section. Thursday night. Wasn't even a cover."


"You're making that up."


"Want to know what song he was singing when I walked in?"


"Now I know you're making it up."


"'Stand by Me.' Heard it for the first time in the Copper Penny Club. Yeah, Detroit was great. What about Birmingham?"


"Same thing, I suppose. Town was printing money back then. Not just the mills. We had a fishing industry once. Lot of the boats worked under sail, looked like a field of kites out on the St. John some summers. It was beautiful. I'll never forget that."


"Town's doing OK though, isn't it? Don't scare me, Mr. Lee. I just got here."


"We're surviving, Danny, like every mill town in Maine is surviving. You came here looking for work, so you must know a thing or two about surviving. Have you taken to it?"


"I think it's better than the alternative."


"The wise man's answer. I should buy you a drink for that."


"I've had enough for tonight. Thanks, Mr. Lee."


"Said I should buy you a drink. Didn't say I would. I don't pay for clichés. The Ben E. King story was worth a drink. Better than the alternative-that doesn't get you much around here."


"Well, I'm still calling it a night. Would you like me to get you a cab before I go?"


Lee seemed to consider it a minute before saying, "That won't be necessary." Then he took a phone from his pocket, and using the careful gestures of a truly plastered man with experience at being truly plastered, he sent a text. He was careful and slow about it. I doubt if there would have been a single typo.


"I have a ride coming," he said, and put his phone away. We walked outside and stood under the awning. It was snowing heavier now, the flakes falling through the arc of the streetlights and making the street darker than it would have been normally.


"Thank you for the drinks," I said, and Lee waved me off, an actual reverse swat of the hand. Coming from him the gesture didn't seem dismissive or patronizing, didn't anger me the way it might have coming from someone else. We talked about the snow and whether it might be the start of a storm, Lee saying it didn't look like it.

Editorial Reviews

“Ron Corbett’s dynamite new series debut…has a snappy voice, the action is perfectly paced...And it brims with heart and grit, always a winning combination.”
New York Times Book Review

“If you crave an action-and-adventure-packed summer survival tale, this one’s for you.”
The Boston Globe

“Like a marvelous piece of north country wood, The Sweet Goodbye has a luxurious grain and finish—
not to say that Ron Corbett’s debut novel of FBI Agent Danny Barrett doesn’t have its share of warp and twists. This is the plank that’s going to set the platform for one fine crime series.”
Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire Mysteries

“Small town secrets and big time corruption. The Sweet Goodbye is a throwback to the days of moody, flawed heroes and fun, complex bad guys. Compelling classic noir that plays out in a forgotten America.”
Ace Atkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Heathens and Robert B. Parker’s Bye Bye Baby.

“From the opening line Corbett makes Barrett a distinctive figure, nuanced enough to carry multiple sequels, and goes on to humanize even some of the bad guys, no mean feat. Vivid and detailed descriptions of the Maine woods enhance the intricate plot."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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