New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan never fails to craft an edge-of-your-seat read—and her newest novel is a romantic thriller with bite. The Third to Die is Brennan’s latest addition to her impressive body of work—she's published over thirty novels—and the debut entry in a brand-new thriller series. The story follows tough LAPD police detective Kara Quinn and the desperate hunt for a serial killer whose bizarre pattern seems to reveal an obsession with the number three. After years of inactivity, the psychopath has risen out of relative obscurity to strike again.
Detective Quinn is the first one to sound the alarm on the killer’s return. After reluctantly agreeing to take some time off from work, she finds herself visiting her hometown of Liberty Lake, Washington. The workaholic is dreading spending two weeks in a town where nothing ever happens, when her life suddenly becomes a lot more thrilling—though certainly not in the way she had hoped. While on a chilly morning jog, Kara stumbles across the body of a woman who’s been brutally murdered. The victim has been dumped in a wooded area off a hiking trail, and her torso has been meticulously sliced open. The manner of death matches the handiwork of the notorious Triple Killer, prompting the FBI to get involved. It looks like Kara will have her work cut out for her after all.
Perfectly in her element, Kara lends her professional expertise and witness testimony to a squad made up of local officers and federal agents. But the clock is ticking, and the investigative team must track down their suspect before it's too late—the bloodbath has just begun, and the killer now has one of their own in his crosshairs.
We’re giving readers a special sneak peek of Allison Brennan’s masterfully crafted thriller. In the following scene, FBI Agent Matt Costa returns to the crime scene to mull over the vicious murder that took place. There, he meets Detective Kara Quinn for the first time, and she shares her own insights on the case.
Keep reading for a glimpse into the chilling hunt for a serial killer, then download The Third to Die today.
Although they were unable to prevent her murder, they were extremely lucky that Victoria Manners’s body was discovered so quickly. But it was experience, skill, and a competent local police department—not luck—that landed Matt Costa here just twenty-four hours after the body was found. Because of that, they had a real chance to catch the killer before he took his next victim. But because his victims appeared to be selected randomly and within a small window of time, Matt knew his team was on a very tight clock.
The tracks that the killer had left when he—and they assumed it was a “he” because of Catherine’s profile—drove an ATV from the wide running path to the water’s edge were still partly visible in the slush. There’d been no fresh snow recently, and while the mountaintops were still pristine and white, most of the town was dealing with remnants of the last storm. According to the local authorities, they’d been able to take good impressions of the tire treads. Matt already asked them to ship the impressions to the FBI lab if they didn’t have the capability to process them quickly. Once his mobile crime unit was fully staffed and operational, they wouldn’t have to rely on local labs or the national lab for results. Until then he would use any facility at his disposal.
Matt continued to take his own pictures, starting from where the tracks deviated from the trail. He couldn’t yet see from here the exact place where Manners’s body had been found—it was downslope about fifty feet. What had the witness seen from here that caused her to investigate?
He walked downhill parallel to the tracks until he reached where they’d stopped. Obviously the body was gone. The crime scene investigators had collected samples of soil and other potential trace evidence, but they hadn’t found anything obviously connected to the killer. According to Detective Knolls, Manners was registered with a temp agency that specialized in health care staffing. She was in the middle of the third week of a six-week nursing assignment in the trauma ward of a Spokane hospital. Her shift ended at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2. She’d clocked out at 8:09 p.m. No one reported her missing. She was 28, single, no known boyfriend. Her hospital ID was in the pocket of her scrubs, which was how they’d identified her, though Knolls also said they’d confirmed the ID through her prints.
Manners had never made it home that night—at least, her car wasn’t at the small duplex she rented downtown, near Gonzaga University. Her car also wasn’t at the hospital, and Detective Knolls had issued a BOLO for the vehicle.
If they were dealing with the same serial killer, even if they found the car, it would most likely yield no evidence. He was a wily bastard, smart and sick, who had never been seen with any of his previous victims. Four women, three men. Three under thirty-five, four over thirty-five. Caucasian woman, a stay-at-home-mother of three. Caucasian woman, a high school vice principal. A Japanese-American cop. Those three were killed in Portland, Oregon. But the cop was off duty and the killer may not have known he was a cop.
Catherine thought he knew; she’d said as much in her preliminary report. But did it mean something?
The next three didn’t fit a pattern, either—other than the last victim was a cop. An Asian nurse. A black college professor. A Caucasian cop. They were killed in Missoula, Montana.
And Victoria Manners, Caucasian female nurse, the first—and hopefully the only—victim in Liberty Lake, Washington. Three different cities now, with no obvious link among any of the victims.
Matt needed more coffee and a good two hours to process the details from the crime scene and reread Catherine’s report carefully.
A sound distracted Matt. He gazed back up toward the trail. Since a jogger had discovered the body, he wouldn’t be surprised if he encountered one or more this morning on the path. He could barely see the trail from his vantage point. Still, he didn’t see anyone.
He walked slowly back up the slope. The last thing he wanted to deal with was the press. If a photographer was out here trying to document the crime scene for some lurid report, Matt would go ballistic. Internally, at least. He was exceptionally good at controlling his temper. He’d learned the hard way.
Matt sensed he was being watched. Killers, on occasion, returned to the scene of the crime.
He had his hand on the butt of his Glock.
When he reached the top of the slope, he saw a petite blonde in black skintight jogging pants with a bright green stripe down the side and a matching Dri-Fit jacket. She wore a fanny pack and was drinking water from a neoprene bottle. She looked right at him. He adjusted his hand so she didn’t see his gun. No use scaring the locals, though this was the West and rural communities generally had their fair share of gun owners.
“Hope I didn’t startle you,” Matt said. She was the first person he’d seen on the trail.
“You didn’t. Andy said he’d called in the feds, figured you’d all be sniffing around, so I thought I would check out the situation.”
“You on the job?” Local police, he figured. Most civilians didn’t call FBI agents “the feds.”
“Kara Quinn, LAPD.”
Quinn. That was the name of the witness. She looked barely old enough to drink. Rookie cop stumbles across his DB?
“Matt Costa, SAC of the Mobile Response Team.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Special Agent in Charge? In the field? Never seen that before. Every ASAC and SAC I’ve met is a dick. Boys and girls both.”
He didn’t know how to respond to that. “LA as in Los Angeles?”
“You’re a long way from home.”
Why wasn’t she giving him straight answers? “You found the body.”
He glanced at his watch. He still had an hour before the autopsy; he could spare another fifteen minutes before heading back to his car.
“I planned to talk to you after the autopsy. But since you’re here—” odd, he thought, but didn’t ask her about it “—could you walk me through it?”
“I stopped back there—” she gestured down the trail “—to stretch at the four-mile marker. Started off again, and when I rounded the corner saw the ATV tracks going off toward the lake. At first I didn’t think much about it, but when I glanced down the slope I saw something odd—a hint of color. Neon.”
“I followed the tracks. The neon was the pink stethoscope around the victim’s neck. It was clear she’d been murdered—cut open, bled out there.”
“You could tell that with a look?”
“There was a fucking lot of blood.”
“You didn’t touch anything?”
“It was obvious she was long dead, I figured four to twelve hours. I didn’t need to check for her vitals.” She was assessing him, and there was a slight shift in her posture and demeanor. So subtle that if he wasn’t a trained interrogator, he wouldn’t have caught it.
“Based on the visual evidence,” Quinn said, “it appeared “that the killer brought the victim to this location. No sign of a struggle or attempt to escape—the environment at the time was undisturbed, unlike now that the crime techs and police have gone over it. She was likely unconscious or drugged to the point of compliance. He laid her down, head toward the lake—Why? A ritual? Convenience?—and then sliced her from sternum to navel.”
Quinn’s tone had definitely shifted, from borderline playful to no-nonsense cop.
“How could you possibly know that?”
“Did you look at the crime scene photos?”
He’d glanced at them, but he hadn’t analyzed them. “Briefly.”
“It might not be obvious unless you enhance them,” she said, “but based on the killer’s footprints—not so much prints as impressions because the ground is rocky underneath the slush—he stood over her body, one foot on either side of her thighs. He’s right-handed—he sliced down, pulled the knife out, and stood above her. There was a significant pool of blood on the right side, where it likely dripped from the knife as he watched her die. Well, that was my sense when I saw it. I could be wrong.”
She spoke as if she knew she wasn’t wrong.
“Then, whether because the victim wasn’t completely dead or he had a compulsive need or was in a rage, he cut her from left to right three or four more times—there was significant blood spatter on the leaves and foliage to the right of the body. He didn’t specifically gut his victim—didn’t take out the organs, unless something’s missing when they autopsy her—but he certainly enjoyed the mess he made.” She paused a moment, then added, “He wasn’t in a rage. A rage would be multiple stab wounds, not a few slashes. At least, that’s my educated guess.”
She pointed north. “The killer left a different way than he came—he rode along the lake as far as he could until the terrain forced him back up to the trail. I told Andy—Detective Knolls. He’s the only detective in Liberty Lake, by the way. Good cop if you like your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted, if you want to find a thief robbing vacation houses on the lake or locate a serial rapist. But not so much a homicide cop. Anyway, I told him the killer cleaned up in the lake. I can’t prove it, just my gut. And the evidence supports it. The killer walked about fifteen feet from the body—away from her, but where he could still see her. There were many footprints between where the ATV was parked and the edge of the lake. Both with shoes and barefoot. Andy said the water was too cold for a dip, but I think that’s part of the ritual. Were the other bodies found near water?”
“No.” He hesitated, then decided to share a bit with this cop. Because she was more astute than most rookies he’d worked with, and definitely better than the average witness. “This is the fourth victim out of seven who was found outdoors. Only one of the previous victims was found near water—next to the Columbia River, in Portland.”
“I’m surprised I didn’t hear about these murders.”
“Missoula was three years ago this month, Portland six years ago.”
She looked up, as if thinking, then nodded. “I was deep cover.”
“You’re an undercover cop?”
“Am I not speaking clearly?”
She smiled, but didn’t answer his unspoken questions—how long had she been a cop, what kind of undercover work, did she have homicide training. If she was a detective, she had to be older than he initially thought. She knew he wanted those answers. Was she going to make him ask?
He didn’t. He’d find out on his own.
“Maybe not a ritual, but a convenience,” Quinn said. “Seven victims?”
“That we know about.”
“You think there’s more?”
“I’m not ruling it out.”
“When did the feds get involved?”
He hesitated. This was the kind of information they kept in-house, though Quinn was a cop. Even if she was on vacation.
Quinn said, “Do you want to see my badge?”
He almost said yes, then didn’t. There was nothing he was telling her that couldn’t be found through other channels. “Three years ago—but the killer’s been on a hiatus, of sorts. Now that he’s active again, we’re using every resource at our disposal to stop him.”
“Not yet—we haven’t had an eyewitness or any forensic information that matches anything in our database.”
“Smart killers are rare, but they’re out there.”
He wasn’t confident that her tone referred to killers—or cops. Then she smiled at him.
“If you need anything else from me, call. I’m sure Andy gave you my contact info.”
Matt nodded, trying to think of more questions because Kara Quinn was different—and he couldn’t put his finger on why. But he simply watched as she jogged off at a quick pace.
Want to keep reading? Download The Third to Die today!
This passage gives a taste of the thrills in store in Allison Brennan’s latest suspenseful read. When Matt and Kara first meet, Matt is hesitant to let an outsider interfere with his investigation. But he quickly realizes that Kara is a skilled detective, and if they put their heads together, they might have a shot at capturing the Triple Killer before more blood is shed. The two of them make a great team—both on and off the job.
Luckily for thriller fans, this nail-biting read is the first installment in a brand-new series. If you end up racing to the end of this page turner and still want more, be sure to check out Allison Brennan’s impressive bibliography while you await the sequel.
This post is sponsored by MIRA Books. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for Murder & Mayhem to continue publishing the mystery stories you love.
Featured image: Dave / Unsplash