NYPD Detective Claire Codella has just won a tough battle with cancer. Now she has to regain her rightful place on the force. she hasn’t even been back a day when Hector Sanchez, a maverick public school principal, is found murdered. The school is on high alert. The media is howling for answers. And Codella catches the high-profile case at the worst possible time.
As she races to track down the killer, she uncovers dirty politics, questionable contracts, and dark secrets. Each discovery she makes brings her closer to the truth, but the truth may cost Codella her life.
Silent City, Carrie Smith’s explosive debut, will introduce readers to a brilliant new voice in crime fiction that will grab them and not let go until the very last page and a fearless heroine who they will enjoy for years to come.
Carrie Smith is the Senior Vice President, Publisher of Benchmark Education Company. Her writing awards include three Hopwood Awards from the University of Michigan and a fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She lives in Manhattan.
Winner of three Hopwood awards at University of Michigan Winner of a Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Fellowship Winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction
“Well-crafted…an insightful glimpse into the emotions and consequences of being a cancer survivor.”
“Smith’s debut in the genre features snappy prose, a skillfully constructed
plot, and a nicely detailed rendering of police work…Fans of procedurals should add Smith to their must-read lists.”
—Booklist, starred review
“This compelling debut kept me up all night. Crime fiction fans, take note: newcomer Carrie Smith belongs at the top of your to-be-read pile!”
—New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub
“Silent City grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go. With a cast of characters whose conflicting interests come together in a seamless tapestry of dishonesty and deception, you’ll be guessing until the tense conclusion of this incredibly taut tale. I can’t wait to see what author Carrie Smith does next. She’s got a new fan.”
–Maggie Barbieri, author of the Murder 101 Mysteries
“Smith’s New York is a real place and her story’s a good one, but her true superpower is her ability to unravel the messy intricacies of peoples’ interior lives. In Smith’s work — as in life — there are no minor characters.
–SJ Rozan, Edgar-winning author of Skin of the Wolf
The ringing of her cell phone ruptured the early morning silence. McGowan cleared his throat right in her ear. “Reilly’s got a body in his precinct and only a rookie detective to catch it. Some guy named MuÃ±oz. It’s your old stomping ground, Codella. Why don’t you skip the morning briefing and give him a hand? nothing like hitting the ground running, right?”
No hello. No how you doing? No good to have you on board again. Was he happy to have a body to keep her out of his morning meetÂing so he wouldn’t have to rally the team for a big welcome back? Well, she didn’t want one any more than he wanted to give one. “Sure. I’ll head right over.”
Claire Codella swung her feet off the bed, skipped the shower, and stepped in front of the sink. Who would she see at the scene, she wondered, and what would they say when they saw her? She stared into the medicine cabinet mirror and imagined what the CSU guys would notice. The hair, of course. The hair was the dead giveaway. It was still so goddamn short. But at least it was black again. The first growths sprouting from the damaged follicles had been rusty colored, coarse, and kinky. They had capped her scalp like the tight ringlets on the sculpted bust of an ancient roman emperor. At least the ringlets had relaxed, and now with a little styling gel, she could make her hair look spiky. Maybe she would even fool a few people into thinking she was some wannabe punk rocker instead of a cancer victim.
She splashed cold water over her face. Her eyes were as blue as ever, and her skin still as pale and smooth as bone china, but she knew she wasn’t exactly attractive with hair like this. AttracÂtiveness had been irrelevant for the past ten months, of course. During her illness, she had not given one thought to looking good, and she had not once thought about sex except as someÂthing distant and abstract, something that existed in the world but didn’t directly touch her daily life, like the Taliban, the state of the economy, poverty, or famine. Even now, she felt no sexual desire. Like her extremities, that ultimate private zone of her body was numb. Months of vincristine–one of the six toxic chemicals makÂing up the hyper-CVAD chemotherapy cocktail–had deadened her nerve endings. The tips of her fingers now tingled morning, noon, and night as if she had recently suffered frostbite and were still–and perpetually–in a state of partial thaw.
“How long will this numbness last?” she had asked her oncoloÂgist, Dr. Abrams, at her first posttreatment exam.
He had shrugged. “It could last several months, or it could never go away,” he’d conceded matter-of-factly. He was a say-itÂlike-it-is-but-don’t-panic-about-things-you-can’t-change guy, and she liked that about him. She preferred the truth to gentle fanÂtasy landings. During investigations, she always gave the truth–as sensitively as possible, of course–to the families of the violently murdered. She could deal with lifelong neuropathy, she supposed, so long as it didn’t prevent her from pulling the trigger and passing her periodic shooting exams. She could endure the lack of interest from the opposite sex right now, too. And she had even suspended her vanity for months. But apparently, that was now returning.
“Not anymore.” Codella’s eyes darted up the treeless block of grimy tenement buildings. In the pre-rush-hour calm of early morning, she could feel the nervous pulse at her neck as she ducked under the crime scene tape. Everything about this scene felt familÂiar and yet it was different too–or maybe she was just different.
“You must be MuÃ±oz,” she said to the towering dark-skinned detective who approached her.
“Eduardo MuÃ±oz.” He smiled.
“Follow me, Detective,” she said, and he fell into step behind her like a six-foot-five lost dog. At least he wasn’t Brian Haggerty. At least she didn’t have to face him yet.
They entered the lobby of the yellow brick walk-up, and the heel of her left boot landed in a sticky spill in front of the aluminum mailboxes. It made a crackling sound as she peeled it off the tiles. She took the stairs two at a time, just in case MuÃ±oz or anybody on the landing above doubted her stamina, and the movement of her arms made her shoulder holster jiggle uncomfortably. She hadn’t adjusted it properly to her new weight, and the Glock pounded annoyingly against her ribcage.
On the fourth floor, her lungs were screaming, and she had to will herself to take even breaths as she approached the familiar, smiling uniform outside the apartment.
The reddish-haired officer stared at her intently as he held out a clipboard and a pen. “Nice to see you, Detective.”
Her foggy brain wouldn’t cough up his name so she glanced surreptitiously at his nameplate. O’Donnell. Then she rememÂbered. “Good to see you too, Joe.” She took the pen and signed in. Then she handed it to MuÃ±oz. As he signed his name, she slipped on Tyvek booties. “How long you been in the 171st, Detective?”
“So this is your first homicide case?”
“Here, put these on.” She handed him booties like a mother dressing a small child. A year ago she might have been annoyed having to do this, but now she found she didn’t mind. Playing mother was a far better alternative than playing the child, and she had been the dependent one far too often recently. She watched MuÃ±oz stretch the booties around his very long leather shoes. Surely this big guy who looked like a knicks guard had been to death scenes before. He must have seen ODs and stabbings and shootings, she thought. But that didn’t mean he knew what to look for.
“Stand here,” she ordered as she stepped through the door. “right against the wall. I’ll call you when I want you.”
The clapping began with one pair of nitrile-gloved hands, slow and deliberate. Then the other crime scene investigators joined in. It took Codella a few seconds to realize they were applauding her.
“Our genius returns!” announced Banks, the lead investigaÂtor. He was a thin, gangly man, with arms and legs that looked disproportionately long for his torso, and apparently, he still wasn’t letting her live down the New York magazine article that had called her a “genius of deductive reasoning” after the wainright Blake case last year.
“Fuck off.” She smiled good-naturedly.
“You’re the one who’s been fucking off.”
They all laughed.
“Oh, right. That’s what I was doing.”
MuÃ±oz waited and watched by the door as she turned her attenÂtion to the body on the living room floor. “How’d he go down?”
“No blood. no marks on the body,” said Banks. “The medical examiner’s on his way.”
Codella studied the corpse like a masterpiece at the Met. The victim’s neck tilted unnaturally to the left so that his chin touched his left shoulder. His arms were outstretched at ninety-degree angles from his body and his palms were facing up in what could only be a deliberate pose. He was wearing a pair of cotton boxers–a muted blue-and-green-plaid version of a loincloth–and his torso was bare. As in most depictions of Christ, he had scant chest hair. But the ripple of well-toned arm and stomach muscles made him conspicuously more buff than a medieval Christ. The placement of his legs confirmed the intentional symbolism. They were bare, bent slightly at the knees, and the right foot had been carefully placed over the left. Only nails piercing flesh were missing–and a crown of thorns and cross. now, due to the muscular contraction of rigor mortis, this man was frozen into a Christlike statue, and he would remain this way until putrefaction freed him from his virtual cross.
She stared at his thick hair, as coal-black as her own. She noted his refined Latin features, his five o’clock shadow, his prominent Adam’s apple. She snapped his photo with her iPhone. Who are you? she wondered silently. What the hell happened to you?
Banks’s eyes were on her as she lowered her phone. She could read his mind like a tabloid headline. <i?Genius Cop Sees First Corpse After Cancer. Can She Take It? And now she wondered if she could. Having focused so intently on eluding her own death for the last ten months, did she still have the unwavering resoluteness and cool rationality required to focus on someone else’s?
She wondered if Banks or any of these other crime scene detecÂtives ever stopped to analyze why they had chosen their particular vocation. Before now, she hadn’t dwelled on the deeper implicaÂtions of her work either. But sitting hour after hour in a hospital bed and walking the halls attached to an IV pole had provided her with abundant time to reflect on all the unpleasantness of her childÂhood. She didn’t need anyone’s help to see that choosing a career in law enforcement was her antidote to growing up with a violent and abusive father. A religious person might conclude that she was doing penance for the damage he had caused in the lives of the people around him. A psychologist might conjecture that she was still trying to save others from violence because she had not been able to protect her own mother. But even if those assumptions had once been true, did they still apply? Doctors had just saved her. And maybe it was time to move on in her life. Maybe it was a mistake to have come back for more of this grisly business.
Her mouth was dry. She unwrapped a piece of the Biotene gum a chemo nurse had told her would help relieve her dry mouth, one of the lingering effects of so many toxic chemicals in her system. She kept her eyes down. She knew she was doing the worst possible thing, giving into self-doubt in front of others, and if she didn’t find her footing fast, they would all smell her insecurity. of course it wasn’t a mistake to be here, she told herself. This was her life. Getting back to her life necessarily meant getting back to other people’s deaths.
She gripped the sleeves of her soft leather jacket, hoping that this prized possession she’d bought on the day she’d joined the detective ranks could bring back all the confidence she’d had before she’d been tethered to a chemo pole so many times that it had begun to feel like another–albeit unwanted–appendage. She took a deep breath, raised her eyes, and turned to O’Donnell. “What do we know?”
“Not much. The dog was howling all night. The neighbor,” he motioned toward a door on the opposite side of the tiled, five-by-five-foot hallway, “called the super and the super came up early this morning. This is what he found.”
“Where’s the dog now?”
“With the super.”
“What about him?” She gestured to the body.
“His name’s Hector Sanchez. Lived alone. He’s a public school principal.”
She turned back to the dead man. Okay, Hector Sanchez. You’re the dead one, not me. She moved farther into the apartment and snapped several more photos.
“Hey, we already got him from every angle, Detective,” one investigator assured her.
“Don’t waste your breath,” Banks told him. “She always takes her own.” Then he looked at MuÃ±oz. “Good luck with her. you’re about to get a real education.”
Codella stopped snapping. “Ignore him, Detective. Get over here and take photographs. Your camera. Your eyes. Never rely on someone else.”
The body lay sprawled on a deep-crimson faux-oriental rug. The room’s ceiling was high, and the crown molding was intricate though not well preserved. Deep fissures in the plaster cried out for skim coating. new york public school principals, she observed, apparently couldn’t afford to renovate their apartments any more than nyPD detectives could. The radiator below the windows was hissing and clanking, and the windows were cracked open to let in the bracing november air.
The victim’s flat-screen TV, mounted on the wall above a nonÂworking fireplace, was on, though the volume had been muted. “Did anyone here mute this TV?” she called out.
Two investigators simultaneously shook their heads. Everything was as it had been, they assured her.
The victim’s laptop rested on a brown leather hassock in front of a matching leather chair facing the flat-screen TV. Codella moved to where she could see the laptop screen, but it was black.
“Have you lifted prints and checked for DnA on this?”
“Okay if I have a look?”
“Be my guest.”
She found gloves and put them on. The laptop was plugged into a socket in the wall where a table lamp also drew its power. She pressed return and the screen blinked back to life, revealing an open Internet browser. The computer’s cursor was poised in a blank text box in the browser. Hector Sanchez, it appeared, had been about to compose a message before his murder.
She scrolled up in the window and discovered that the victim had been reading a thread of postings initiated by a blogger named Helen C. Her initial message had been posted at 3:48 pm the day before.
My son was BRUTALLY attacked in the boy’s room of PS 777 this morning. An older student forced him into a bathroom stall and pushed his head into a toilet bowl full of urine. And the attacker’s punishment? An in-school suspension so he “isn’t out there on the streets.” I’m sorry, but since when does the perpetrator get the protection instead of the victim? There’s no such thing as “public education” in this country anymore. Our taxes pay for PUBLIC INDIFFERENCE. We’re forced to share the burden of each other’s dysfunction and violence. I didn’t come to PS 777 for this. I came because the principal promised my son the special services he needs. SO MUCH FOR PROMISES!
MuÃ±oz had come close and was reading over her shoulder as she scrolled down to the responses this post had provoked.
You’re an idiot if you think anybody keeps promises…
It’s even worse in middle school. A SIXTH GRADER threatened my son at knifepoint!!
Take heart. Remember, blessed are the meek…
Why are you people always shoving your biblical shit down people’s throats?!!! Urine wasn’t enough for her son?
A little advice from the wise…Get a FAKE ADDRESS!! Register your kid in a BETTER CATCHMENT. Nothing’s equal–even in the public school system. The poor kids get poor schools and the rich kids get the bells and whistles.
All those principals and teachers care about is their union-negotiated salaries, benefits, retirement packages, and tenure. Thank the unions for what happened to your son.
If you’re pushing a classmate into a toilet bowl at the age of 12, just imagine what you’ll be doing when you’re 18.
No shit, Dr. Freud!!
She turned to MuÃ±oz. “Interesting. He comes home, peels down to his boxers, and keeps up with the school message boards.”
“You think this Helen C. has something to do with his murder?”
“Too early to tell. Let’s not skip ahead. Let’s get all the details first.” She turned to Banks. “This computer goes to the precinct.”
“Any evidence the murderer stripped the victim?”
Banks shook his head. “There’s a suit jacket neatly draped on a chair by his bed, matching pants on a hanger on the closet door, and a pair of jeans and a T-shirt hanging on the handlebars of his spin bike. I’d say he undressed himself.”
“But was he wearing the suit or the jeans and T-shirt?”
Banks shrugged. “The suit, I’m guessing. The jeans could have been there for days–like mine always are.”
“And you think he undressed himself why? Because murderers don’t know how to drape jackets neatly? If the victim went to the trouble of hanging his pants on a hanger, why didn’t he go the extra distance and put the hanger in the closet?”
Banks shrugged. “You’re the genius, not me.”
She turned back to MuÃ±oz. “Are you a boxers or briefs guy?”
MuÃ±oz’s eyes got wide.
Banks snickered. “Uh-oh. The cougar’s been caged up too long.”
She rolled her eyes.
MuÃ±oz grinned with impressively white teeth. “Boxers,” he said. “Why?”
“And you live alone?”
“Hear that guys? She’s looking for some action,” said Banks.
She flipped him a lethargic bird and turned to MuÃ±oz. “How often you hang out in your boxers?”
He shrugged. “Pretty often. My apartment gets hot. Like this one.”
“And if someone rang your bell, you’d open the door in your boxers?”
“Depends who was at my door.”
“Let’s say it’s a guy you know.”
“A guy you don’t know?”
He considered. “I’d probably throw on pants.”
“Not me,” said Banks.
She turned to him. “Was the entry forced?”
Her eyes shifted to the flickering flat-screen, which was tuned to MSNBC. If Banks was right about Sanchez undressing himself, then the murdered principal had been sitting here in his boxers, and at some point his doorbell must have rung or someone had knocked and maybe that was when he’d muted the TV, set his laptop on the hassock for the last time in his life, and opened the door. But who was at that door?