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Dark Lady

Cover of Dark Lady

Dark Lady

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In Dark Lady, Richard North Patterson displays the mastery of setting, psychology, and story that makes him unique among writers of suspense, and one of today's most original and enthralling novelists.

In Steelton, a struggling Midwestern city on the cusp of an economic turnaround, two prominent men are found dead within days of each other. One is Tommy Fielding, a senior officer of the company building a new baseball stadium, the city's hope for the future. The other is Jack Novak, the local drug dealers' attorney of choice. Fielding's death with a prostitute, from an overdose of heroin, seems accidental; Novak is apparently the victim of a ritual murder. But in each case the character of the dead man seems contradicted by the particulars of his death. Coincidence or connection?

The question falls to Assistant County Prosecutor Stella Marz. Despite a traumatic breach with her alcoholic and embittered father, she has risen from a working-class background to become head of the prosecutor's homicide unit. A driven woman, she is called the Dark Lady by defense lawyers for her relentless, sometimes ruthless, style: in seven years only one case has gotten away from her, and only because the defendant took his own life. She has earned every inch of both her official and her off-the-record titles, and recently she's decided to go after another: to become the first woman elected Prosecutor of Erie County. But that was before the brutal murder of her ex-lover--Jack Novak.

Novak's death leads her into a labyrinth where her personal and professional lives become dangerously intertwined. There is the possibility that Novak fixed drug cases for the city's crime lord, Vincent Moro, with the help of law enforcement personnel, and perhaps with someone in Stella's own office . . . the bitter mayoral race which threatens to undermine her own ambitions . . . her attraction to a colleague who may not be what he seems . . . the lingering, complicated effects of her painful affair with Novak . . . the growing certainty that she is being watched and followed. Making her way through a maze of corruption, deceit, and greed, trusting no one, Stella comes to believe that the search for the truth involves the bleak history of Steelton itself--a history that now endangers her future, and perhaps her life.

For his uncanny dialogue, subtle delineation of character, and hypnotic narrative, critics have compared Richard North Patterson to John O'Hara and Dashiell Hammett. Now, in the character of the Dark Lady, he has created a woman as fascinating as her world is haunting. Dark Lady is his signature work.

In Dark Lady, Richard North Patterson displays the mastery of setting, psychology, and story that makes him unique among writers of suspense, and one of today's most original and enthralling novelists.

In Steelton, a struggling Midwestern city on the cusp of an economic turnaround, two prominent men are found dead within days of each other. One is Tommy Fielding, a senior officer of the company building a new baseball stadium, the city's hope for the future. The other is Jack Novak, the local drug dealers' attorney of choice. Fielding's death with a prostitute, from an overdose of heroin, seems accidental; Novak is apparently the victim of a ritual murder. But in each case the character of the dead man seems contradicted by the particulars of his death. Coincidence or connection?

The question falls to Assistant County Prosecutor Stella Marz. Despite a traumatic breach with her alcoholic and embittered father, she has risen from a working-class background to become head of the prosecutor's homicide unit. A driven woman, she is called the Dark Lady by defense lawyers for her relentless, sometimes ruthless, style: in seven years only one case has gotten away from her, and only because the defendant took his own life. She has earned every inch of both her official and her off-the-record titles, and recently she's decided to go after another: to become the first woman elected Prosecutor of Erie County. But that was before the brutal murder of her ex-lover--Jack Novak.

Novak's death leads her into a labyrinth where her personal and professional lives become dangerously intertwined. There is the possibility that Novak fixed drug cases for the city's crime lord, Vincent Moro, with the help of law enforcement personnel, and perhaps with someone in Stella's own office . . . the bitter mayoral race which threatens to undermine her own ambitions . . . her attraction to a colleague who may not be what he seems . . . the lingering, complicated effects of her painful affair with Novak . . . the growing certainty that she is being watched and followed. Making her way through a maze of corruption, deceit, and greed, trusting no one, Stella comes to believe that the search for the truth involves the bleak history of Steelton itself--a history that now endangers her future, and perhaps her life.

For his uncanny dialogue, subtle delineation of character, and hypnotic narrative, critics have compared Richard North Patterson to John O'Hara and Dashiell Hammett. Now, in the character of the Dark Lady, he has created a woman as fascinating as her world is haunting. Dark Lady is his signature work.

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  • Chapter One

    In the moments before the brutal murder of Jack Novak ended what she later thought of as her time of innocence, Assistant County Prosecutor Stella Marz gazed down at the waterfront of her native city, Steelton.

    At thirty-eight, Stella would not have called herself an innocent. Nor was the view from her corner office one that lightened her heart. The afternoon sky was a close, sunless cobalt, typical of Steelton in winter. The sludge-gray Onandaga River divided the city as it met Lake Erie beneath a steel bridge: the valley carved by the river was a treeless expanse of railroad tracks, boxcars, refineries, cranes, chemical plants, and, looming over all of this, the smokestacks of the steel mills--squat, black, and enormous--on which Steelton's existence had once depended. From early childhood, Stella could remember the stench of mill smoke, the stain left on the white blouse of her school uniform drying on her mother's clothesline; from her time in night law school, she recalled the evening that the river had exploded in a stunning instant of spontaneous combustion caused by chemical waste and petroleum derivatives, the flames which climbed five stories high against the darkness. Between these two moments--the apogee of the mills and the explosion of the river--lay the story of a city and its decline.

    By heritage, Stella herself was part of this story. The mills had boomed after the Civil War, manned by the earliest wave of immigrants--Germans and British, Welsh and Irish--who, in the early 1870s, had worked fourteen hours a day, six days a week. Their weekly pay was $11.50; in 1874, years of seething resentment ignited a strike, with angry workers demanding twenty-five cents more a week. The leading owner, Amasa Hall, shut down his mills, informing the strikers that, upon reopening, he would give jobs only to those who agreed to a fifty-cent cut. When the strikers refused, Hall boarded his yacht and embarked on a cruise around the world.

    Hall stopped at Danzig, then a Polish seaport on the Baltic. He advertised extensively for young workers, offering the kingly wage of $7.25 a week and free transport to America. The resulting wave of Polish strikebreakers--poor, hardworking, Roman Catholic, and largely illiterate--had included Stella's great-grandfather, Carol Marzewski. It was on their backs that Amasa Hall had, quite systematically, undercut and eventually wiped out the other steel producers in the area, acquiring their mills and near-total sway over the region's steel industry. And it was the slow, inexorable decline of those same mills into sputtering obsolescence which had left Stella's father, Armin Marz, unemployed and bitter.

    Recalling the flames which had leaped from the Onandaga, a brilliant orange-blue against the night sky, had reminded Stella of another memory from childhood, the East Side riots. Just as the West Side of Steelton was home to European immigrants--the first wave had been joined by Italians, Russians, Poles, Slovaks, and Austro-Hungarians--so the city's industry had drawn a later influx of migrants from the American South, the descendants of former slaves, to the eastern side of the Onandaga. But these newcomers were less welcomed, by employers or the heretofore all-white labor force. Stella could not remember a time in her old neighborhood, Warszawa, when the black interlopers were not viewed with suspicion and contempt; the fiery explosion of the East Side into riots in the sixties--three days of arson and shootouts with police--had helped convert this into fear and hatred. A last trickle of nonwhites--Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Koreans, Haitians, Chinese, and Vietnamese--felt welcome, if at all, only on the impoverished...

About the Author-
  • Richard North Patterson studied fiction writing with Jesse Hill Ford at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has written ten novels, including the international bestsellers Degree of Guilt, Eyes of a Child, The Final Judgment, Silent Witness, and No Safe Place. Patterson lives with his wife, Laurie, and their family in San Francisco and on Martha's Vineyard.

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