The Poison Artist

The Poison Artist

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“An electrifying read . . . I haven’t read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon.” — Stephen King

“Magnificent, thoroughly unnerving . . . I dare you to look away.” — Justin Cronin

Caleb Maddox is a San Francisco toxicologist studying the chemical effects of pain. He’s out drinking after a bad breakup when a hauntingly seductive woman sits down at his side. He talks to Emmeline over absinthe, but their encounter is fleeting. She brushes her lips on his ear and disappears. He must find her. As Caleb scours the city, he begins helping the city’s medical examiner with a serial-murder investigation. Soon the search for the killer entwines with Caleb’s hunt for Emmeline, and the closer he gets to each, the more dangerous his world becomes. “A wicked mix of Poe, The Silence of the Lambs, and Vertigo,”* The Poison Artist spins a thrilling tale of obsession, damage, a man unmoored by an unspeakable past, and a woman who offers the ultimate escape.

“A totally new take on the mystery-thriller genre . . . Fresh and unpredictable. The writing is top-notch . . . Grade: A.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Genuinely scary, in the very best way, and nastily twisty, also in the very best way . . . Hypnotic.” — Guardian

* William Landay

Available Resources

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544546431

  • ISBN-10: 0544546431

  • Pages: 272

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 01/26/2016

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Jonathan Moore

Jonathan Moore

JONATHAN MOORE lives in Hawaii with his wife and son, and is the author of five books. Before completing law school in New Orleans, he was an English teacher, a bar owner, a raft guide, a counselor at a Texas wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents, and an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C.
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  • reviews

    Praise for The Poison Artist 

    The Poison Artist is an electrifying read, building from shock to shock. I read the last one hundred pages in a single sitting. The final chapter is an absolute stunner. I haven’t read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon.”  —Stephen King 


    “Patient, stylish and incredibly suspenseful.” —Lee Child, New York Times best-selling author of the Jack Reacher novels 


    “A magnificent, thoroughly unnerving psychological thriller written in a lush, intoxicating style.  I dare you to look away." —Justin Cronin, New York Times best-selling author of The Passage and The Twelve 


    "'The Poison Artist' is a rare thing: a totally new take on the mystery-thriller genre...Jonathan Moore's story of a scientist helping the police investigate a femme fatale serial killer using poison is totally fresh and unpredictable. The writing is top-notch, wonderfully evoking a dark and foggy San Francisco where ghosts of the past color the bloody events of the day. Grade: A"—The Cleveland Plain Dealer 


    "The Poison Artist takes place in a fog-bound, rain-drenched version of San Francisco, which becomes, in Moore’s telling, almost a city from a dream, where truths and realities slip in and out of focus somewhere between the long nights and the constantly filled glasses...It’s genuinely scarily, in the very best way, and nastily twisty, also in the very best way. Just like the clashes between Caleb’s day and night existences, Moore’s hypnotic, rich prose shifts and jars from seductive bars at night to the gruesome way fingerprints have to be taken from a body that has been underwater for days. Spiralling down from dream into nightmare, The Poison Artist is thoroughly unnerving and classily executed." —The Guardian 


    "The Poison Artist is an elegant, gripping, hair-raising gothic chiller, a wicked mix of Poe, The Silence of the Lambs, and Vertigo. Settle in for a long night of reading—once this one grabs you, it doesn't let go." —William Landay, New York Times best-selling author of Defending Jacob 


    “Jonathan Moore has written a wickedly smart, emotionally complex novel that will haunt you long after you turn the last page. Whether you find it seductively terrifying or terrifyingly seductive, in my mind, The Poison Artist is better than Hitchcock.” —Lou Berney, author of Whiplash River and The Long and Faraway Gone 


    “With The Poison Artist, Jonathan Moore has given us a brilliant debut thriller, confident, mesmerizing, edgy and very cool. So much happens on every page, it's almost dizzying. Hitchcock should come back from the grave and film this story.” —Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and Next Life Might Be Kinder 


    “Moore has a great gift for the macabre and creepy.” —The Times 


    “This is a cinematic and phantasmagoric treat... Obsession and violent death collide in an elegantly written thriller.” —The Independent 


    The Poison Artist takes an old film noir set-up - man meets femme fatale and starts to fear that she might be even more dangerous than she looks - and brings it into the modern world...a superior cat and mouse story, with an effective twist in the tail.” —Mail on Sunday 


    “This thriller's twists become as dark and intoxicating as the bars where the mystery begins.” —Sunday Mirror 


    “A noirish, atmospheric tale…Uniquely sinister…Like Agatha Christie, Jonathan Moore is a writer who gets you hooked on a plot where poison is the cold, clinical method of execution. The Poison Artist is a debut that’s both an exemplary psychological crime novel and a masterful exercise in intoxicating dread. It’s a strange, sensual story to be savoured like the finest single malt whisky.” —Crime Fiction Lover 


    “Jonathan Moore expertly weaves together the murder hunt and Caleb’s descent into the demi-monde existence of Emmeline, with the San Francisco setting evoking the dreamlike state of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, for a compelling psycho-thriller that releases its poison just the way I like it: slowly and with a wicked grin.” —The Crack Magazine 


    “Moore’s evocative prose infuses this unusual tale with smoldering noir elegance.”—Curled Up with a Book 


    "There are some books that are just perfect for curling under the covers on dark nights. The Poison Artist, part gothic, part CSI, is one of those books, set in a perpetually fog-shrouded San Francisco that is dark and dangerous."—Reviewing the Evidence 


    "Moore writes beautiful, careful prose and presents readers with an atmospheric story...Where he excels is in the sensuousness of his writing: food, sex, alcohol—he fully engages all of the senses...Absinthe, oysters, the painter John Singer Sargent, a classic car, and a string of disturbing deaths...make this dark tale memorable."—Kirkus Reviews 


    "With crisp dialogue and skilled plotting, this atmospheric novel—fittingly set in a dark and foggy December in San Francisco—is an engrossing thriller by an author to watch. Give this one to readers who like forensic thrillers but would also be drawn in by the creepy mood."—Booklist, starred review 


    "Exquisite...The sympathetic, though brutally flawed hero and the shocking, Hitchcock-esque finale make this psychological thriller a must-read."—Publishers Weekly, starred review  






  • excerpts


    After he checked in and got up to his room, Caleb stood in front of the full-length mirror screwed to the bathroom door, and looked at his forehead. In the back of the cab he’d stopped the bleeding by pressing his shirt cuff against the cut, but there were still tiny slivers of glass lodged under his skin from the tumbler she’d thrown. He picked them out with his fingernail and dropped them on the carpet. 


    Then the blood started again: a thin runner that dropped between his eyes and split on the rise of his nose to descend in twin tracks toward the corners of his mouth. He looked at that a moment, the blood on his face and the bruise just getting started on his forehead, and then he went to the sink and wet one of the washcloths. He wrung it out and wiped the blood off, then went and sat on the floor with his back against the closet door. The little blades of broken glass glittered in the weave of the red carpet. 


    It was good glass. Murano crystal, maybe. They’d bought a set of the tumblers at the Macy’s fronting Union Square a year ago at Christmas, right after she’d moved in. There’d been ice-skaters going in circles on the rink beneath the lit-up tree, and they’d stood there awhile, side by side, to watch them. She’d been so warm then, as if there were embers sewn into her dress. 




    That was the word in his mind when he pictured her. Even now. It was a dangerous path to stroll down, but what wasn’t? 


    He picked one of the shards out of the carpet and held it on the pad of his fingertip. 



    On their third date, they’d walked on the beach across the road from the western edge of Golden Gate Park. She’d taken off her sandals, had slapped them together a few times to get the sand off them before putting them into her purse. The Dutch windmill and some of the big cypress trees were breaking up the fog as it streamed in off the ocean. Bridget was holding his hand and looking at the blue-gray gloom of the Pacific. She’d cried out suddenly, falling into him as her right knee buckled. 


    “Ouch. Fuck.” 


    “What?” he said. “What?” 


    She was hopping on one foot now, her arm around his waist. 


    “Glass, I think. Or a shell.” 


    He helped her to a concrete staircase that led up the seawall to the sidewalk. She sat on the third step and he knelt in the sand and took her small bare foot into his hands. It was tan and slender, and he could see the Y-shaped white mark where the thong of her sandal had hidden her skin from the sun. For a second, he saw up her leg, the skin smooth and perfect all the way to her pink panties. She saw his eyes’ focus and blushed, then used her hand to fold her skirt between her thighs. 


    “Sorry,” he said. 


    She smiled. 


    “My foot, stupid.” 


    “Right. Your foot.” 


    The piece of glass had gone into the soft white skin in the arch of her foot. It wasn’t bleeding until he pulled the shard out, and then the blood came. It trickled to her heel and then dripped onto the bottom step. Bridget made a low gasping sound. When he looked up at her, she was biting her lip and her eyes were closed. 


    “You got tissues or something in your purse?” 


    “Yeah. Take it. I can’t look.” 


    He took her purse and found the plastic-wrapped package of tissues. He pulled out a handful and folded them into a thick pad and then pressed it against the cut, holding it tight. She made the gasping sound again. 


    He didn’t know her well. Not then. He’d come to know her sounds, would know the difference between a gasp of pleasure and one of pain, or the quick way she would draw a breath when she was afraid, like a swimmer getting one last burst of oxygen before a wave washes over. But that afternoon, on his knees at the edge of the beach with her foot in his hands, he didn’t know any of these things yet. She was the girl he’d met at a gallery opening two weeks ago. The beautiful shy girl in a thin-strapped black dress, who, it turned out, had painted half the work in the show. He didn’t know much about her except that he wanted to know everything. 


    “Am I hurting you?” 


    “I just really don’t like blood.” 


    “Pretend it’s paint.” 


    She laughed, her eyes still closed. 


    “I’ll carry you to the car, so the cut stays clean.” 


    His car was a quarter mile away, to the north, where the beach ended and the cliffs began. 


    She opened her eyes and looked down the beach. 


    “Can you manage it?” 


    “Easy,” he said. 


    And it was. She hooked her elbow at the back of his neck and he lifted her up and carried her in his arms, and thirty minutes later, when he parked outside his house on the slope of Mount Sutro, he carried her inside. He cleaned her foot with hydrogen peroxide and covered the cut with gauze and tape, but that came off in his bed soon enough, and neither of them noticed. The wound traced the patterns of her pleasure in blood on his sheets as he knelt before her and learned the first of many lessons about the woman he would come to love and to live with. Later, when they realized her cut had reopened, he took her down the hill to the hospital, where they cleaned the laceration a second time before closing it with stitches. 


    They hadn’t spent a night apart afterward, until now. 



    He sat on the carpet with the washcloth against his forehead and thought the simple artistry of the pattern was something she wouldn’t have missed. It might even please her a little, might make her smile in that quiet way she did when the paint covered the last empty places on the canvas and the shapes came into focus as though a fog had blown clear. Broken glass at the beginning; broken glass at the end. He pulled the washcloth away and looked at it. 


    “Blood in, blood out,” he said. 


    Like a rite. The code of some secret society. Their sect of two, now disbanded. He wadded the washcloth and threw it into the bathroom. 



    He’d left the house with nothing but his wallet. No phone, no keys. He’d walked down the hill to the UCSF Medical Center, called a cab from a pay phone. He stood waiting for it, thinking maybe Bridget would drive down. Double park in the ambulance loading zone and come running to him. To apologize, to ask him to come back. 


    But if she’d come, it was after the cab rolled up, so he was gone. 



    The bar at the Palace Hotel was called the Pied Piper. A Maxfield Parrish painting hung across the back bar and gave the place its name — ninety-six square feet of light and shadow and menace, the children leaving the safety of the walled city of Hamelin to follow a monster with a face as old and as cruel as a rock. 


    It wasn’t the first time Caleb had taken shelter in a painting, giving himself over to the canvas until both the room and the world holding it went black and silent. Some paintings were made for it, maybe. When he found them, and...

Available Resources

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544546431

  • ISBN-10: 0544546431

  • Pages: 272

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 01/26/2016

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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