Excerpt from The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Coffin Dancer

by Jeffery Deaver

The Coffin Dancer
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  • First Published:
    Jul 1998, 352 pages
    Mar 1999, 255 pages

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Print Excerpt

"Oh, God. No, no..."

Then the entire cockpit broke away from the disintegrating plane and rose into the air, leaving the fuselage and wings and engines of the Lear behind, engulfed in a ball of gassy fire.

"Oh, Percey," he whispered, "Percey..." Though there was no longer a microphone to speak into.

Chapter Two

Big as asteroids, bone yellow.

The grains of sand glowed on the computer screen. The man was sitting forward, neck aching, eyes in a hard squint -- from concentration, not from any flaw in vision.

In the distance, thunder. The early morning sky was yellow and green and a storm was due at any moment. This had been the wettest spring on record.

Grains of sand...

"Enlarge," he commanded, and dutifully the image on the computer doubled in size.

Strange, he thought.

"Cursor down...stop."

Leaning forward again, straining, studying the screen.

Sand, Lincoln Rhyme reflected, is a criminalist's delight: bits of rock, sometimes mixed with other material, ranging from .05 to 2 millimeters (larger than that is gravel, smaller is silt). It adheres to a perp's clothing like sticky paint and conveniently leaps off at crime scenes and hideouts to link murderer and murdered. It also can tell a great deal about where a suspect has been. Opaque sand means he's been in the desert. Clear means beaches. Hornblende means Canada. Obsidian, Hawaii. Quartz and opaque igneous rock, New England. Smooth gray magnetite, the western Great Lakes.

But where this particular sand had come from, Rhyme didn't have a clue. Most of the sand in the New York area was quartz and feldspar. Rocky on Long Island Sound, dusty on the Atlantic, muddy on the Hudson. But this was white, glistening, ragged, mixed with tiny red spheres. And what are those rings? White stone rings like microscopic slices of calamari. He'd never seen anything like this.

The puzzle had kept Rhyme up till 4 a.m. He'd just sent a sample of the sand to a colleague at the FBI's crime lab in Washington. He'd had it shipped off with great reluctance -- Lincoln Rhyme hated someone else's answering his own questions.

Motion at the window beside his bed. He glanced toward it. His neighbors -- two compact peregrine falcons -- were awake and about to go hunting. Pigeons beware, Rhyme thought. Then he cocked his head, muttering, "Damn," though he was referring not to his frustration with this uncooperative evidence but at the impending interruption.

Urgent footsteps were on the stairs. Thom had let visitors in and Rhyme didn't want visitors. He glanced toward the hallway angrily. "Oh, not now, for God's sake."

But they didn't hear, of course, and wouldn't have paused even if they had.

Two of them...

One was heavy. One not.

A fast knock on the open door and they entered.


Rhyme grunted.

Lon Sellitto was a detective first grade, NYPD, and the one responsible for the giant steps. Padding along beside him was his slimmer, younger partner, Jerry Banks, spiffy in his pork gray suit of fine plaid. He'd doused his cowlick with spray -- Rhyme could smell propane, isobutane, and vinyl acetate -- but the charming spike still stuck up like Dagwood's.

The rotund man looked around the second-floor bedroom, which measured twenty by twenty. Not a picture on the wall. "What's different, Linc? About the place?"


"Oh, hey, I know -- it's clean," Banks said, then stopped abruptly as he ran into his faux pas.

"Clean, sure," said Thom, immaculate in ironed tan slacks, white shirt, and the flowery tie that Rhyme thought was pointlessly gaudy though he himself had bought it, mail order, for the man. The aide had been with Rhyme for several years now -- and though he'd been fired by Rhyme twice, and quit once, the criminalist had rehired the unflappable nurse/assistant an equal number of times. Thom knew enough about quadriplegia to be a doctor and had learned enough forensics from Lincoln Rhyme to be a detective. But he was content to be what the insurance company called a "caregiver," though both Rhyme and Thom disparaged the term. Rhyme called him, variously, his "mother hen" or "nemesis," both of which delighted the aide no end. He now maneuvered around the visitors. "He didn't like it but I hired Molly Maids and got the place scrubbed down. Practically needed to be fumigated. He wouldn't talk to me for a whole day afterwards."

Copyright © 1998 by Jeffery Deaver.

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