About the Author

Martin Michaud

Martin Michaud is a bestselling author, screenwriter, musician, and former lawyer. His critically acclaimed Victor Lessard series has won numerous awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award and the Prix Saint-Pacôme for Crime Fiction, and is the basis for the award-winning French-language TV series Victor Lessard. He lives in Montreal.

 

Books by this Author
Never Forget

Never Forget

A Victor Lessard Thriller
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also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Sunday, December 18th

Hands on his thighs, head bent forward, Victor Lessard was trying to catch his breath and regain his composure. From the depths of the warehouse, he’d had to run twenty metres before reaching the door and bursting outside.
Still panting, he turned away from the yellowish puddle at his feet and straightened up.
Wiping his lips, the detective sergeant took out a pack of cigarettes. The first puff set fire to his throat; the second lit up his lungs; the third calmed him down.
As his face returned to its normal colour, Victor zipped up his leather jacket and, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans, paced among the junk in the snowy courtyard: an old boat sitting on wooden pallets; the carcasses of eviscerated cars; misshapen, rusting metal parts.
With a little imagination, one might almost have expected to find this fractured, postapocalyptic scene in the backdrop of a picture by Edward Burtynsky.
Worried that someone might be looking for him, Victor glanced toward the warehouse. From where he was standing, he could read the sign over the entrance: METALCORP. In the distance, to his left, he saw the gaunt silhouette of the Décarie Expressway ramp leading to the Champlain Bridge.
For a moment, Victor watched the unending flow of vehicles, hypnotized. Then he walked toward the Lachine Canal. He stepped carefully to prevent snow getting into his black-leather Converse high-tops.
His gaze drifted briefly to the canal’s far bank. Though the district was still largely industrial, residential buildings were sprouting up here and there; but nothing like the disused factories farther east, now converted into high-end condos, that he had visited with Nadja.
Tossing his cigarette butt into the skeleton of a Plymouth Duster, Victor ran his fingers across the stubble on his cheeks. With a shake of his head, he turned and headed back toward the building, limping slightly. That limp was the only visible remnant of the attack that had nearly cost him his life. But neither the passage of time nor the psychotherapy could altogether erase the scars that the King of Flies had left on his soul.

“You’re too sensitive, Lessard. You puke every goddamn time.”
Victor’s square jaw clenched and his green eyes looked straight into his partner’s. “I just stepped out for a smoke.”
Jacinthe Taillon responded with a skeptical little smile as she plunged her thick fingers into a bag of Cheetos and crammed a handful into her mouth. “The trick is never to go in on an empty stomach. Do you eat breakfast every morning?”
“There’s orange stuff on your face, Jacinthe.”
She was in her forties. With her doughy features untouched by makeup, her short-cropped hair, and rolls of flesh visible under her clothes, she was affectionately nicknamed “Tiny” Taillon by her colleagues. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Direct, unsparing, practical, she was known for bluntness and a resolute refusal to beat around the bush. Ever. “Okay, big guy, let’s go. We haven’t got all day.”
With that, Jacinthe set her massive body in motion and headed toward the back of the warehouse, crumpling her bag of munchies. Victor rubbed his temples for a moment, took a deep breath, and followed her.

The interior was as chaotic as the courtyard, but it was organized chaos: dirt, debris, metal stacked in layers or contained in wooden crates. Two Forensic Identification technicians were spraying luminol on a stretch of floor, looking for blood spatter. Victor tried to remember the techs’ names, then gave up. Since his return to the Major Crimes Unit, there’d been so much information to absorb that his brain sometimes failed to keep up.
“What’s the latest on Mr. Horowitz?”
Taillon sighed with frustration. “He had a heart scare. He’s in the ICU at Saint-Luc Hospital.”
“Put yourself in his shoes,” Victor said. “He didn’t expect to find a corpse in his warehouse on a Sunday morning.”
“Maybe not, but now we’ll have to wait before getting his deposition. And the clock’s ticking.”
“Anyway, we’ve still got our Jane Doe to deal with. This’ll take as long as it needs to take.”
“Are you deliberately trying to get on my nerves?”

The cleanliness and elegance of Horowitz’s office contrasted with the rest of the place: lacquered concrete floor, glass-topped desk, leather armchairs under industrial windows, computer, papers, meticulously aligned pens, metal file cabinets, adjacent washroom, Toulouse-Lautrec prints on the walls, small kitchen with sink, microwave, and espresso machine, and a laminated table surrounded by several chairs for mealtimes.
Only the yellow plastic crime-scene tape and the body disturbed the harmony of the space.
For an instant, Victor hoped that by closing his eyes he could erase the dead woman. But when he opened them again, she was still on her back, pallid and naked, at the foot of the table, where he’d first seen her before the nausea overcame him.
A shaft of sunlight coming through the window cast singular patterns on the skin of the corpse, whose posture recalled the twisted forms of Delacroix’s paintings.
Her sphincter muscles had relaxed at the moment of death. Her legs, bent to one side, were bathed in urine and feces. Victor raised his T-shirt over his nose to block out the stench that was pressing at his nostrils.
Jacob Berger turned to him, smiling. Berger had refined traits and a delicate chin. He wore little glasses and his hairstyle was too perfect. “Feeling better, Lessard?”
Both men were nearly six foot three, but the resemblance stopped there. While the detective sergeant’s hard features and athletic physique gave him a threatening appearance, the medical examiner was long and lean, the prototype of an intellectual.
“How can you stand it, Jacob?” Victor hung back, not getting too close to the body.
The dead woman’s rolled-back eyes made him shudder, but he couldn’t look away from the wrinkled arms, the limp, toneless flesh dotted with droplets of blood.
“You get used to it,” Berger said, kneeling beside the victim.
“I don’t think I ever will.”
Jacinthe rolled her eyes, then noticed the clothes piled in a corner. “Save the touchy-feely stuff for later, girls. Was she killed here?”
“Yes.”
“How long ago?”
“I’d say a good forty-eight hours. Probably sometime Thursday night.”
Victor made a mental note, then hesitated for an instant, trying to find the right words for what he was about to ask of the examiner. Berger had a touchy streak, and Lessard was eager to avoid seeming to micromanage him. “Since we don’t have a purse or ID, I’d like you to be on the lookout for anything that might help identify her — dental work, physical particulars, labels, distinctive garments, details of that sort.”
“No problem.”
Maybe, like him, Berger was getting softer as he aged.
“How old would you say she was?”
“In her sixties. I could be wrong.”
“She left behind an impressive body of work,” Jacinthe said, laughing loudly at her own joke before turning serious. She used a fingernail to pry an orange blob from between her teeth and asked, “Cause of death?”
“She bled out. Something went right through her throat — from back to front, I believe.”
“Is that the hole?” Jacinthe pointed to a circular wound just above the trachea.
Gently, Berger turned the dead woman’s head and inserted a finger into the opening. The sploosh sound made Victor queasy. He averted his eyes, close to retching. Taillon watched, fascinated, as the examiner’s expert hands moved over the corpse’s throat.
“This is the exit wound. The object used by the killer entered the back of the neck and exited here, severing the carotid artery along the way. The vertebral arteries run through the cervical bones on their way to the brain. Hemorrhaging was massive. She was dead in minutes.”
“The object used by the killer …” Victor paused, still struggling to hold down the contents of his stomach. “You mean that’s not a bullet wound?”
“I could go into details, but —”
“Forget the details,” Taillon snapped.
“Short answer: no, that is not a bullet wound.”
“Okay,” Taillon said, “so what was the murder weapon?”
“I’ll know more after the autopsy, but I’d say it was a sharp object propelled by some kind of mechanism.”
“Mechanism?” Victor asked, intrigued.
Berger looked at him over the rims of his glasses, which wavered in precarious balance on the bridge of his nose. “It took considerable velocity to cause a wound like this. More than human strength alone could generate.”
Their gazes met for an instant.
“There’s something else,” Berger said.
“Oh, yeah?” the big woman growled.
The examiner ran his finger along two cuts, one above the sternum and the other beneath the chin, near the throat. Each wound had two distinct entry points.
“I don’t know what made these punctures, but they’re deep.”
The image stayed with Victor wherever he looked: the dead woman’s head and frizzy grey hair lying in a red lake, a Mona Lisa half smile clinging to her lips as though she’d been at peace when she was struck down.
“There are abrasions on the wrists and neck.”
“Caused by what?” Jacinthe asked.
“On the wrists, could be handcuffs.”
“And the neck?”
“It looks like the murderer made her wear something extremely tight and heavy.”
“A dog collar?” Victor suggested.
“That,” Berger answered, “would be one very large dog collar.”

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The Devil's Choir

The Devil's Choir

A Victor Lessard Thriller
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Without Blood

Without Blood

A Victor Lessard Thriller
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

April 1st, 2005
Chapter One

Montreal

As far as I can remember, there was no sunshine on the morning of April 1st, only the grey drizzle of a late-breaking day. A sheet of dirty ice clung to the pavement in front of my apartment on Saint-Antoine Street.

Caught up among the torrents of snow that the plows had been shoving aside since December, discarded papers lay in a mosaic on the sidewalk.

April.

It’s the time of year when, as though recalling a forgotten promise after a long winter, the residents of Montreal start looking forward to blue skies, to buds on the trees and a warm wind on their faces. It’s also the time of year when Canadiens fans begin to dream about the Stanley Cup.

Though the district of Saint-Henri was manifestly underprivileged, its fortunes had been looking up lately. Contributing to this trend were the renaissance of the old Atwater Market, the revitalization of the Lachine Canal — where empty factories were being converted into high-end condos — and the creation of a bicycle path linked to the market by a pedestrian bridge.

Unlike the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal, Saint-Henri would never be a tourist destination. It wouldn’t become a mini Soho or Greenwich Village. But still, a growing number of young people were moving into the area.

That’s precisely how it was with me. I occupied a five-and-a-half with crumbling plaster walls, though I only used the three rooms that were fit for habitation.

My clock radio went off for the first time at 6:45 a.m. I automatically hit the snooze button, giving myself ten minutes’ grace. It was the same routine every morning until my official wake-up at 7:15 a.m. But for reasons I’d be hard put to explain, that’s not how things worked out this particular morning.

I woke with a start at 8:45 a.m., emerging from an awful nightmare in which a car was about to run me down. I lay in a daze for a few seconds, staring at the clock’s liquid crystal display. No doubt about it. The time really was 8:45 a.m. I was going to be seriously late.

Leaping from my bed, I hurried into the shower. I didn’t pause to enjoy the scalding caress of the water, a pleasure I usually prolonged until the tank was empty, which generally took less than three minutes.

I had turned thirty-three the previous week. My best friend, Ariane, had given me a green wool sweater, which I now threw on after grabbing my jeans off the floor.

To celebrate the occasion, we’d had dinner in Chinatown. We’d gotten decidedly tipsy and closed out the evening in a seedy karaoke bar on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, where, to my own surprise, I’d launched into a delirious rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s old hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

I walked past the mirror and pushed back a few unruly locks of red hair. My face was freckled. As for the rest of me, it was neither ugly nor beautiful. Ordinary, but not boring. Makeup was something I never wasted time on. I grabbed a beanie off the coat rack to keep my hair in place and threw on my old coat.

As I was opening the door, a caramel-coloured furball darted through my legs into the street.

Stupid cat!

I loved to hate that animal, which fled from me every time I set foot in the apartment. But I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him.

I had come home one morning to find him on the doorstep. He had probably belonged to the previous tenant.

A survivor, like me.

By 9:12 a.m., I was running toward the bus stop on Atwater.

After slipping discreetly into my cubicle, I collapsed onto my not-even-slightly-ergonomic chair, which squeaked as I sat down.

I looked at my watch: 9:50 a.m.!

Maybe nobody noticed.

The first thing I did was check my emails. I opened a few messages and noted that there were no new developments in the file that I was supposed to be overseeing.

My tension level rose when I saw an email from the boss, sent a few minutes ago and marked “Important.” The company was small, and Flavio Dinar ran it like a dictator. He hated lateness, but I desperately needed this job. My cheeks flaming, I clicked the email.

Date: Friday, April 1, 2005, 9:20 am
From: flavio.dinar@dinar.com
To: simone.fortin@dinar.com
Attachments: Fundraiser(text).doc, Fundraiser(photos).gif

To all employees:
I was delighted to see everyone participate so enthusiastically in this year’s “Software Fights Poverty” fundraiser.
I’m proud to inform you that thanks to your commitment, your hard work, and the generosity of our donors, we surpassed our fundraising objective for 2005, collecting the record sum of $16,000.
I want to thank you all for the excellence of your contributions, which reflect the high standards of Dinar Communications.
I’ve attached some articles and photographs that appeared in various newspapers some weeks ago.
Cordially yours, Flavio Dinar

I let out a sigh of relief. The email had nothing to do with my lateness. Since I’d participated actively in the fundraising event, which had been held in a reception room at the Saint-Sulpice Hotel, I opened the file and looked over the media coverage. Each employee had created a fun piece of software for the event.

My nonsense-phrase generator wasn’t particularly brilliant, but it had attracted the highest bid of the night, three thousand dollars. That didn’t really come as a surprise. The bidder, a bald, middle-aged man, had been watching me all evening long like a drug user eyeing his stash.

Following the event, Flavio Dinar had hosted an after-party in two connecting hotel suites that he’d booked for the evening. When it came to preserving close ties with major clients, the man knew what he was doing. There were even whispers that over half the company’s revenue came from the federal government through the back channels of the scandal-ridden sponsorship program.

As a result, the entertainment laid on by the boss included champagne, cocaine, and high-end escorts. None of which was likely to raise an eyebrow among those familiar with the public-relations business. In that line of work, moral rectitude doesn’t count for much.

I had put in my usual perfunctory appearance at the party, but left before it degenerated into a bacchanal. I had decided to leave the event as Dinar, blind drunk, was preparing to offer up a public display of his personal charms, stumbling onto the dance floor in a hypnotic trance.

On my way out, I had run into the bald man. A good-looking young blond was on his arm. Gazing eagerly down my décolleté, he had invited me to join him and his companion for a drink somewhere else. Politely but firmly, I had declined.

Opening the file that contained the photos, I noticed that most of the images were of Dinar employees and inebriated donors. In one of them, I saw the bald man and the blond in a smiling embrace. The blond’s gaze seemed unfocused.

On the caption accompanying the photo, I read: Jacques Mongeau. The name seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then I forgot about it.

I should have remembered him, but I didn’t. Even if I had, I don’t think it would have changed anything. More than seven years had passed since the last time I’d heard the man’s name. I’d spent those years trying to put a very painful chapter of my life behind me.

Despite all the precautions I’d taken, I saw my own face in the background of another photograph. Not only that, but my name was listed on the caption accompanying the picture. All of which was very upsetting. But at that moment, I had no inkling of the chaos the photo would unleash.

I was starting to feel distinctly anxious when Ariane stepped into my cubicle.

“You’re late!”

Her voice was loud and cheery.

“Keep it down,” I whispered. “No one noticed.”

She threw herself onto the visitor’s chair, which let out a groan.

“It’s not like you make a habit of it. You haven’t taken a day off in two years.”

“You know I can’t stand being late.” I reddened. I was still prone to blushing, even at my age. “A lot can go wrong in five minutes.”

I gathered up some loose papers and placed them in a neat stack on the corner of my cracked melamine desk. A lot really could go wrong in five minutes. I knew from experience.

Ariane jumped to her feet.

“Coffee?”

“Are you nuts? I just got here!”

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