Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver
The Monterey Peninsula is rocked when a killer begins to leave roadside crosses beside local highways — not in memoriam, but as announcements of his intention to kill. And to kill in particularly horrific and efficient ways: using the personal details about the victims that they’ve carelessly posted in blogs and on social networking websites.
The case lands on the desk of Kathryn Dance, the California Bureau of Investigation’s foremost kinesics — body language-expert. She and Deputy Michael O’Neil follow the leads to Travis Brigham, a troubled teenager whose role in a fatal car accident has inspired vicious attacks against him on a popular blog, The Chilton Report.
As the investigation progresses, Travis vanishes. Using techniques he learned as a brilliant participant in MMORPGs, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, he easily eludes his pursuers and continues to track his victims, some of whom Kathryn is able to save, some not. Among the obstacles Kathryn must hurdle are politicians from Sacramento, paranoid parents and the blogger himself, James Chilton, whose belief in the importance of blogging and the new media threatens to derail the case and potentially Dance’s career. It is this threat that causes Dance to take desperate and risky measures…
In signature Jeffery Deaver style, Roadside Crosses is filled with dozens of plot twists, cliff-hangers and heartrending personal subplots. It is also a searing look at the accountability of blogging and life in the online world. Roadside Crosses is the third in Deaver’s bestselling High-Tech Thriller Trilogy, along with The Blue Nowhere and The Broken Window.
One theme of this novel is the blurring of the line between the “synthetic world” — the online life — and the real world. Accordingly, if you happen to come across a website address in the pages that follow, you might wish to type it into your browser and go where it takes you. You won’t need what’s in those websites to enjoy the novel, but you may just find a few extra clues that will help you unravel the mystery. You might also simply be interested — or disturbed — by what you find there.
[W]hat the Internet and its cult of anonymity do is to provide a blanket sort of immunity for anybody who wants to say anything about anybody else, and it would be difficult in this sense to think of a more morally deformed exploitation of the concept of free speech.
— RICHARD BERNSTEIN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
OUT OF PLACE.
The California Highway Patrol trooper, young with bristly yellow hair beneath his crisp hat, squinted through the windshield of his Crown Victoria Police Interceptor as he cruised south along Highway 1 in Monterey. Dunes to the right, modest commercial sprawl to the left.
Something was out of place. What?
Heading home at 5:00 p.m. after his tour had ended, he surveyed the road. The trooper didn’t write a lot of tickets here, leaving that to the county deputies — professional courtesy — but he occasionally lit up somebody in a German or Italian car if he was in a mood, and this was the route he often took home at this time of day, so he knew the highway pretty well.
There… that was it. Something colorful, a quarter mile ahead, sat by the side of the road at the base of one of the hills of sand that cut off the view of Monterey Bay.
What could it be?
He hit his light bar — protocol — and pulled over onto the right shoulder. He parked with the hood of the Ford pointed leftward toward traffic, so a rear-ender would shove the car away from, not over, him, and climbed out. Stuck in the sand just beyond the shoulder was a cross — a roadside memorial. It was about eighteen inches high and homemade, cobbled together out of dark, broken-off branches, bound with wire like florists use. Dark red roses lay in a splashy bouquet at the base. A cardboard disk was in the center, the date of the accident written on it in blue ink. There were no names on the front or back.
Officially these memorials to traffic accident victims were discouraged, since people were occasionally injured, even killed, planting a cross or leaving flowers or stuffed animals.
Usually the memorials were tasteful and poignant. This one was spooky.
What was odd, though, was that he couldn’t remember any accidents along here. In fact this was one of the safest stretches of Highway 1 in California. The roadway becomes an obstacle course south of Carmel, like that spot of a really sad accident several weeks ago: two girls killed coming back from a graduation party. But here, the highway was three lanes and mostly straight, with occasional lazy bends through the old Fort Ord grounds, now a college, and the shopping districts.
The trooper thought about removing the cross, but the mourners might return to leave another one and endanger themselves again. Best just to leave it. Out of curiosity he’d check with his sergeant in the morning and find out what had happened. He walked back to his car, tossed his hat on the seat and rubbed his crew cut. He pulled back into traffic, his mind no longer on roadside accidents. He was thinking about what his wife would be making for supper, about taking the kids to the pool afterward.
And when was his brother coming to town? He looked at the date window on his watch. He frowned. Was that right? A glance at his cell phone confirmed that, yes, today was June 25.
That was curious. Whoever had left the roadside cross had made a mistake. He remembered that the date crudely written on the cardboard disk was June 26, Tuesday, tomorrow.
Maybe the poor mourners who’d left the memorial had been so upset they’d jotted the date down wrong.
Then the images of the eerie cross faded, though they didn’t vanish completely and, as the officer headed down the highway home, he drove a bit more carefully.