by Catherine Maiorisi
A middle-of-the night phone call summons NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli and her partner, Detective P.J. Parker, to a politically sensitive murder scene. The victims—a U.S. Senator, the pastor of a mega church, and a self-made music industry billionaire—appear to have been killed during a sex orgy.
Pressure is mounting to cover up the circumstances. But Corelli and Parker are enraged by the words scrawled in blood on a mirror, and their hearts are broken by what they find hidden in a closet. Now the partners vow to find the killer and expose the unsavory lives of these men while seeking justice for the real victims in this case—the children..
A Message in Blood is book #3 in the Chiara Corelli Mystery Series.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"I started A Message in Blood, the third book in the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli series, about ten years after I completed the second book and I was afraid I’d lost touch with the characters and wouldn’t be able to recreate the feeling of the books. But I was wrong. NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli and Detective P.J. Parker were alive and well in my head. And, I loved writing about them. The fun thing, and a big surprise, was seeing both characters evolve and grow in ways that I hadn’t envisioned. In this book, each begins to deal with issues in her past, each moves ahead romantically and Parker becomes more a full partner and a friend to Corelli.
When I started writing A Matter of Blood, the first book in the series, I was inspired by my favorite mystery author, Elizabeth George, to create two main characters. George’s books are set in England and she uses class to create conflict between her characters, Lord Thomas Lynley, a wealthy Earl, and Barbara Havers, a commoner with an anti-royal chip on her shoulder.
But Corelli and Parker turned out to be nothing like Lynley and Havers. And the conflict in the books is very different. Though Corelli is white and Parker is black, race isn’t a factor in their conflict. Nor is Corelli’s night school college education versus Parker’s Yale undergrad and Harvard Law credentials and her position as a former Assistant District Attorney.
Initially, it was being forced to work together that generated sparks between them. Corelli needed someone to watch her back and Parker wanted homicide so though Corelli didn’t want a babysitter and Parker didn’t want to work with the most hated detective in the NYPD, they ended up together.
But the main source of their conflict becomes Corelli’s PTSD. After multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, seeing her lover killed in Afghanistan, and three months undercover in a group of brutal rogue cops, some of them her friends, she has nightmares, flashbacks and a lot of rage which she dumps on Parker. More and more, Parker fights back and forces Corelli to take responsibility for her actions.
And, oh, Corelli’s feelings for the lovely Brett Cummings spur her on to deal with her guilt over her dead lover.
Another surprise for me was how much I enjoyed revisiting Corelli’s apartment, especially her bathtub. Corelli lives on the far west side of Manhattan in the Meat Packing District, a trendy commercial area of cobblestone streets adjacent to Greenwich Village that used to be home to hundreds of meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses. Many of the cavernous spaces once occupied by the meatpacking plants have been converted to apartments and are now filled with hip restaurants and clubs.
Corelli inherited one of these industrial buildings from her uncle. He had divided it into multiple rental units including her huge top-floor duplex apartment with Hudson River views. One of my favorite features of her apartment is her bathtub, a huge industrial vat too large to be removed in the renovation, where she often soaks with a glass of wine and stares out at the dark waters of the Hudson River and the lights of New Jersey.
A Message in Blood is written as a standalone so even if you haven’t read A Matter of Blood or The Blood Runs Cold, I hope you’ll take a chance and read it."
Betty H. - It’s been a while since I’ve read such an exciting mystery novel. The plot is complex and intriguing, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end. The main characters are very well developed but the secondary characters, and especially the bad guys, are equally well done. The pace of the plot is perfect. It seemed like the story never slowed. There was always something new happening. Even with the heavy subject matter, there is also a positive, upbeat feeling to the story, especially toward the end, and not just about the investigation. A lot of this feeling is because of the characters themselves.
I’m very glad I read this novel. The mystery and investigation is complete and I never felt I was missing something I needed from the earlier books. Having said that, I definitely want to go back now and read the earlier books in this series. This novel has my highest recommendation, and if the earlier stories are anything like this one, they will also have the same recommendation.
Eh S. - Maoirisi delivers another excellent crime drama, this time touching on child trafficking and handles what could be a horrific scenario with a careful hand and a lot of compassion. Seeking justice for those involved shows us how well Corelli and Parker have grown as a team. Corelli has come a long way finding resources to help her manage her PTSD and we learn more about P.J.’s past which adds another level of depth to my new favourite crime fighting duo. This case had plenty of possible perps and it was fun working through the clues and motives. The secondary characters show their support and add warmth and humanity to these detectives and the crimes they solve.
I hope this isn't the last we see of this series and these detectives. I’d love to see more cases to solve and relationships to grow in Corelli and Parker’s future, even if they are with different women. A pleasure to read.
Lex Kent's Reviews - This is such an excellent mystery series! It’s really well done and each book is better than the last. This is the third and possibly final book in the series and I could not stop reading it.
The mystery is all contained in this one book so you could start the series here if you really wanted to. I would recommend starting at book one, A Matter of Blood or at least I would suggest reading book two, The Blood Runs Cold, first. The main character Corelli has had some incredible growth in this series. I like my detectives flawed and a bit moody so I always enjoyed her character but it’s still great seeing the new person she is becoming. Anyway, there is the growth in Corelli, the experience and backbone her partner grew, and just other relationships that you would miss out on if you didn’t start reading this series at book one.
The way this book ended had a nice wrap up for not only the case but the characters too. It had the feel that this might be the end. If it is the end, I will really miss this series. Maiorisi is so good at writing mysteries that I hope if this is the end, that she will write more crime/mystery or even intrigue/suspense-romance books. I think she was born to write these types of genres and I’d love to read more of them by her. If you could not guess by my glowing review, I would absolutely recommend this series to all mystery fans.
Skip S. - The mystery element of the book was done really well. As I mentioned it revolves around the very difficult topic of child sex trafficking and is graphic at times, so I had to take a break at times, but I think it’s done in a realistic and non-gratuitous manner. We’re kept in suspense until the very end as to the perpetrator and I enjoyed the twists that came with this storyline.
Whilst the book covers many hard topics, I find that upon reflection the feeling I was left with when I finished reading was warmth. Maiorisi finishes this book in a way that would neatly tie up the series should this be her choice, but I have to say I would love for her to continue to tell Chiara and P.J’s stories, especially at this high standard.
If you haven’t started this series yet, do.
R. Swier - This was a very fast paced and well written mystery. There were many different characters involved within this storyline which added to the realistic feel of it. Since this is a series, reading the other two books will give you additional background information on the characters. However, the author does provide snippets of information to help with the understanding. But no matter what, this is the book to read.
Emma S. - A Message in Blood is brilliant! The depth and research that must have gone into this book must have been extensive. Due to the nature of the story, sexual abuse, and child trafficking, it is obviously a very hard subject to read about, so it's not for everyone. Hands down to the author again for tackling such a difficult subject to write about. The book itself is a page-turner...a gripping murder mystery with plenty of twists and turns.
Claire E. - I love a good lesbian detective novel and this one is an excellent example as to why, there is nothing more satisfying as reading about a network of strong women, mostly queer who work together to find justice for women and girls. Fantasy? Maybe but a good one. In this book the author wanted to shine a light on the horror of child sex trafficking and I think she did an excellent job. Called in to investigate the murder of three prominent men, Detective Chiara Corelli and P.J. Parker are horrified by the scene and what they find hidden in a closet upstairs, furious and determined that there will be no cover up, they are continually shocked by the extent and reach of the child sex trafficking they uncover.
This is the third book in a trilogy and I hadn't read the first two but was still able to follow the story, Corelli's ex-military cop is a familiar one and I would really like to see and hear more about Parker a Black police detective and ex-ADA. I enjoyed the way their working relationship developed and how they didn't shy away from exploring racism. Corelli is also healing from PTSD again, a familiar story line but one handled with sensitivity and with a view to healing which is different from the hard drinking broken person narrative. There is a lot in this book which really shows the power of a good crime novel especially with a network of kick-ass, mostly female, mostly queer people determined to do what they can in a corrupt society.
Out on the tip of Pier 54, huddled in their coats against the battering wind, NYPD Detectives Chiara Corelli and P.J. Parker peered through the icy rain and the mist rising from the choppy water intent on keeping the floater in sight. But the pale face, streaming hair, and waving arm seemed like a trick of the eye, appearing, disappearing then appearing again.
Corelli clamped her jaw closed to keep her teeth from chattering. A floater in the Hudson River was better than being trapped behind a desk, even if it was a lot warmer behind that desk today. She was thrilled that a scheduling fluke put them on top of the catch list. But she hadn’t planned to be in the middle of the Hudson River spotting a floater in a freaky November storm so she was underdressed in the leather coat and silk scarf she usually wore this time of year. She closed her eyes against the shifting wind and biting rain, stomped her feet, and wrapped her arms around herself. Nice irony. Survive the bullets, die from pneumonia.
Her surgeon would be pissed. She’d strongly advised Corelli to take another month to allow her body to fully recover. But the better she felt the harder it was for Corelli to stay home so she’d pushed and pushed until the surgeon reluctantly approved her for limited duty. To the doctor limited meant sitting behind a desk, to her it meant anything other than brawling with the bad guys.
Another blast of wind whipped her dripping hair in her face and pulled at her soaked leather coat. She shivered and hunched her shoulders trying to stay warm. “If the divers don’t get here soon, they’ll have one frozen body in the water and two on the pier.”
“Over there.” Parker pointed to a boat slowly making its way toward them.
The activity on the boat was a blur but if she squinted, she could make out four or five people milling around and two in wetsuits adjusting their air tanks for the dip into the freezing Hudson River. Though a recovery mission like this one didn’t have the same imperative as a rescue operation, it seemed to her the crew was moving in slow motion while she and Parker were freezing their asses off. Of course, she had no one to blame except herself. She could have delegated this to one of the many police officers on the scene but she would never ask anyone to do something she wouldn’t do herself. She pulled the collar of her coat tighter but it wasn’t meant for this weather and didn’t do much to stem the trickle of water running down her neck and back or to protect her from the wind and sleet. But at least she wasn’t the one swimming in the Hudson River.
The divers slipped into the water and swam toward the pier in line with Corelli and Parker. They quickly located the woman, waved, and went under, taking her with them. A minute or two later one diver surfaced and towed the body toward shore.
“Let’s go, Parker.” With the gusting wind and sleet battering them, it was slow going on the icy boards and as they neared the end of the pier, Corelli stumbled.
Parker grabbed her and kept her on her feet. “Let me help you to the car. It’s unlikely the medical examiner will find anything. I’ll check and let you know.”
Corelli pushed Parker’s hands off her. “Damn it. Stop treating me like an invalid. And just because I’ve been away two months doesn’t mean you’re in charge. I decide who does what, when. Remember?”
“Limited duty doesn’t include standing for hours in the middle of the Hudson River in a freaking ice storm. Damn, Corelli, not even two full days back and you’re suicidal.”
Parker veered in the direction of the tent set up so the Medical Examiner could do his job without his eyeballs freezing. Corelli followed. One of the diving team was leaving the tent and held out a hand to stop them. “There’s another girl trapped deeper. Meg will bring her in once she frees her.”
“Yeah.” He shook his head. “Kids.”
“Shit.” Be careful what you wish for. That warm desk was looking better and better.
They moved into the tent and stared down at the small body marbled blue and white from the icy water, long blond hair, unseeing blue eyes, tiny mouth hanging open, and small hands limp at her side. Every cop’s nightmare. The guy standing over the girl looked up. “Hey, you can’t come in here.”
Parker flashed her badge. “Detectives Corelli and Parker.”
“Oh, sorry, I’m Rob Willis, the new Medical Legal Investigator.”
Corelli ignored the hand he extended and focused on the girl. She appeared to be about eight or nine years old, the age of her niece, Gabriella.
“Bastards,” Parker said, as another body was gently placed next to the first.
The second girl was darker, long brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin and maybe a little older. Corelli studied the bodies.
“The kids are the hardest, aren’t they?” Willis’ question pulled her attention to him.
“Yeah, they are. I have a niece about the same age.”
“And I, a daughter.” Willis checked the girls for broken limbs and head wounds. He studied their necks, made some notes, then called for body bags to transport them to the morgue. “They haven’t been in the water very long but as I’m sure you know, even a short time will eliminate any trace evidence. Right now my best guess is they were strangled.”
“Thanks, Willis.” Corelli and Parker moved aside to make room for the morgue technicians and left them to it.
Wondering whether she’d ever be warm again, Corelli headed for the two divers packing their gear. Seeing her approach, one of them muttered “traitor” and turned his back. The blood rushed to her face. Interesting, she was surprised her body was capable of flushing right now. Parker tensed. The ostracism hadn’t been bad since she returned but it was still there. Though being shot while catching a murderer helped the men and women in blue remember they once respected her, some police would always see her as a traitor.
“Sorry, Corelli. You don’t need that shit while you’re dealing with two dead girls.” Drumond, the supervisor of the diving team, saying her name brought her back to the freezing riverside.
“Not your fault he’s an ass.” Corelli pointed to the pier. “Bodies don’t usually wash up down here. Why did these two end up out there?”
“Normally the tides and river flow would have dragged them downstream but all the recent storms have washed a lot of debris downriver and some of it accumulated around the piles under the pier. The girls got snagged on the debris. If one of them hadn’t pulled loose enough to float to where she could be seen from the pier they might never have been found.”
Corelli put her hand on the shoulder of the other diver who’d retrieved the girls, someone she’d known since the academy. “Meg, I have to ask, are you sure there were the only two?”
“It’s pretty murky down there so no guarantees, but I poked around and I didn’t find any others.”
“Thanks. Good job, as always. Stay warm.” Corelli fought the impulse to wrap her arms around herself but with each icy gust of wind she clenched her whole body. Damn. If she didn’t get inside soon she would be shivering and her teeth would be chattering. Her gaze swept the clusters of police watching them. Determined not to show weakness, to project strength instead, she willed her shoulders to straighten and her voice to remain steady and greeted those who acknowledged her. As they approached their car she extended her hand. “Give me the keys to our car. It’ll be more comfortable than the backseat of an unheated patrol car so meet me there with the witness.”
Corelli started their unmarked vehicle, raised the heat to high, and moved to the backseat. She allowed herself to shiver and her teeth to chatter for a few seconds before rubbing her hands together to warm them and then drying her face with tissues they kept in the car. She was pretty sure she was soaked down to her underwear but she couldn’t do anything about that or her ice-cold feet right now. She looked up when Parker opened the door.
“Ms. Connors, this is Detective Corelli,” Parker said. She waved Jean Connors, the witness, into the car, closed the rear door and slipped behind the steering wheel.
The poor woman looked as cold as Corelli felt. “Sorry to keep you so long, Ms. Connors, but we needed to wait for the bodies to be retrieved before speaking to you.”
“There was more than one?”
“Two.” Corelli waited a second for that to sink in. “Girls. Around eight or nine.”
Corelli wasn’t sure whether Connors shivered from the cold or the news. “Oh, my God, two girls. I thought it was a woman but you know there were waves and her hair was floating and her face was blurry so at first I wasn’t even sure it was a person until I saw the hand waving. What happened? How did they get there?”
“We’ll find out. Tell us about this morning. Why were you on the pier so early on such a cold morning? What made you stop and look at the water?”
“I’m a writer. I walk every morning to get my blood flowing and to mull over ideas for my current story. I had a great idea this morning. Usually I stop and make notes but the wind and sleet made that impossible so I decided to think through the idea instead. Anyway, I was gazing out into the water, not really seeing it but trying to imagine where the idea would take the story. Then a gust of wind made me close my eyes and when I opened them I thought I saw a woman in the water. She kept dipping and disappearing so I decided she must be an illusion and went back to my thoughts. When I looked again she was still there. It took me a few minutes to realize she wasn’t moving and that all I was seeing was her head and occasionally an arm was thrown up. So I called 911.”
“Was anyone else on the pier?”
“Not that I noticed. On a day like today not many people walk out that far. Neither would I normally but I was so involved in my plot, I didn’t notice how far I’d gone.”
“Did you leave the pier to call?”
“I was freezing but I thought I might not be able to find her again if I left, so I waited to point her out to the police.”
It was obvious she hadn’t murdered the girls, so there was no need to hold her any longer. “Thank you, Ms. Connors. We’ll get back to you if we have more questions. Can we drop you somewhere?”
“My apartment is just a few blocks from here.”
After they dropped Connors off, Corelli moved to the front seat. Parker sat with the car in neutral. “What’s next?”
“A gigantic cup of coffee. Stop at the café near the station. When we get back we need to check whether the girls were reported missing. And then—”
The ring of Parker’s phone cut her off. “Ndep,” Parker mouthed the Medical Legal Investigator’s name. “Thanks. We’re on our way.” She broke the connection. “Ndep undressed the girls as soon as they arrived and found something she thinks we should see.”
“Okay. After we pick up coffee head to the morgue.”
Parker tapped the steering wheel, gazed at the street in front of them and made no move to put the car in gear. Just as Corelli was about to object, Parker shifted to face her. “We’re close to your apartment. Should I run you home so you can change into dry clothes first?”
Corelli glared at her. She’d had the same thought but how dare Parker assume she needed special treatment? She controlled the urge to scream but couldn’t contain the anger in her voice. “No, Mommy, I don’t think so.”
Parker threw up her hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be considerate.” She put the car in drive and turned toward the coffee shop.
The frosty atmosphere in the car made the outside temperature seem pleasant. Corelli knew she needed to get a handle on her emotions. Seeing those two little ones triggered a memory of finding an Afghani woman and her three young daughters raped and slaughtered because the woman’s husband fought against the Taliban. Parker didn’t need to be attacked for something she had nothing to do with and for being…for caring.
She hated to show weakness. But she also hated that her nastiness made Parker afraid to suggest something that would make her feel better and protect her. She was soaked to her skin and the last thing she needed was a bad cold or even worse, pneumonia. Parker knew she wasn’t completely healed from her gunshot wounds and would probably silently celebrate her being sensible for a change. “You’re right. We’re close to my apartment. I think I’d better change into dry clothing and put on a warmer coat.”
Instead of the smart-assed comment or raised eyebrows Corelli half expected, Parker turned in the direction of her apartment. “My pants are soaked from the knee down. I think I might have some jeans still at your place from when I was staying over to care for you so I’ll change too.”
A half hour later they were back in the car. “Coffee then the morgue?”