Fall From Grace

The mysterious, violent death of a prominent New England patriarch exposes a nest of dark family secrets in the latest thriller by best-selling author Richard North Patterson, a 1971 graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

In this excerpt from Fall from Grace, Patterson’s 20th novel, we meet Adam Blaine, a trained CIA operative, as he arrives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard to attend the funeral of his estranged father, Ben Blaine, a famous and charismatic writer. A man fond of sailboats, good wine and women other than his wife, Ben Blaine has left behind a string of secrets in addition to an emotionally distraught widow and his strangely aloof mistress, a beautiful television actress who once had a drug problem.

Sliding into the taxi, Adam Blaine told the cabbie where to drop him, and resumed his moody contemplation of his father.

The driver, a woman in her fifties, stole a glance at him in the rearview mirror. Though it was his practice in such proximity to be pleasant, Adam remained quiet. The past consumed him: he had returned to Martha’s Vineyard, the home he had once loved, for the first time in a decade. Benjamin Blaine had made this possible by dying.

Leaving the airport, they took the road to Edgartown, passing woods and fields on both sides. At length, the driver said, “Forgive me, but aren’t you related to Benjamin Blaine, the novelist?”

For a moment, Adam wished that he could lie. “I’m Adam. His son.” The woman nodded. “I saw you play basketball in high school. Even then you looked just like him.”

It was inescapable, Adam knew: for the rest of his life, he would look in the mirror and see a man he loathed. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” the woman continued quietly. “I drove him to the airport several times. Such a vigorous, handsome man, so full of life. To die like that is tragic.”

Was it tragic for his mother, Adam wondered, or would release from Ben Blaine’s dark vortex be an unspoken mercy? “It was certainly a shock,” he responded. But not as much of a shock, he thought to himself, as the last time I saw him.

Understanding none of this, the driver said sympathetically, “I guess you came back for the funeral—I can’t remember seeing you in years. Where do you make your home now?”

“Everywhere and nowhere.” Adam paused, then deployed his usual cover story.

“I’m an agricultural consultant in the third world, helping farmers improve their growing practices. Right now I’m in Afghanistan, on contract with the government.” Her eyes in the mirror were curious and perplexed. “Doing what, exactly?” Adam chose a tone that implied his own bemusement. “The project’s a little peculiar. I survey land, and try to encourage the locals to consider growing something other than poppies. In Afghanistan, the Taliban turns opium into guns.”

Her face darkened. “That sounds dangerous.”

Adam kept his voice casual. “Maybe, if it weren’t so dumb. It’s a dangerous place, it’s true, but I’m well below soldiers and spooks on the hierarchy of risk. Why would the Taliban kill a hapless American on a hopeless mission? I’d be a waste of bullets.”

Quiet now, the driver steered them through the outskirts of town. When they reached the church, the doors were shut. “I hope you haven’t missed the service,” she said.

Adam wondered if this mattered. In his heart, he had buried his father ten years ago. But his presence might help three people he deeply loved cope with their ambivalence. Though all had suffered at the hands of Benjamin Blaine, they lacked Adam’s clarity of mind.

“I imagine I’ll make the eulogy,” he said, and handed the woman an extra twenty.

“Can you drop my suitcase at the Blaine house?”

“Jack, or Ben?”

“Ben. Do you remember where it is?”

The driver nodded. “Sure.”

Adam thanked her and got out. For a moment he gazed at the Old Whaling Church, absorbing the strangeness of his return. The deep blue sky of a flawless summer day framed the church, an imposing Greek revival with stone pillars and an ornate clock tower, all painted a pristine white. Along with the redbrick courthouse beside it, the church was the focal point of Edgartown, a place Adam thought of as the quintessential New England theme park—picket fences, manicured lawns, white wooden homes built in the 1800s. Though the church was now a performing arts center, it was the only place of worship on Martha’s Vineyard, past or present, which could accommodate the hundreds of people who wished to honor a famous man. Had he foreseen his death, Benjamin Blaine would have chosen it himself.

A policeman guarded the door. On the steps reporters or curiosity seekers had clustered, perhaps eager for a glimpse of the statesmen, writers, actors, and athletes who counted themselves as Ben’s friends. Standing taller, Adam strode toward them. He even moved like his father, he remembered people saying, with his father’s grace and vigor. As he reached the steps, the curse of their resemblance struck again.

“Adam Blaine?” A young woman blocked his path, her look of birdlike alertness accentuated by quick, jerky movements of her head. “I’m Amanda Ferris of the National Enquirer.”

Despite his annoyance, Adam almost laughed in her face—this must be a slow week for Brad and Angelina, or the supposed progeny of Venusians and sub-Saharan adolescents. Instead, Adam brushed past her, ignoring her shrill question, “How do you feel about the circumstances of your father’s death?”

“I’m Adam Blaine,” he told the burly policeman at the center door, and stepped inside.

The interior was as Adam remembered it, bright and airy, its tall windows on three sides admitting shafts of light. As softly as he could, he walked down the center aisle toward the front, glimpsing the varied players in Benjamin Blaine’s restless and protean life—a human rights activist from the Sudan; a veteran war correspondent; a retired Spanish bullfighter; an ex-president; a TV anchor; a young black man whose college education was a gift from Ben; the islanders, a more modest group, many of whom had known Ben all his life. Some of the latter, noting him, registered surprise at his presence. Adam nodded at a few—his old basketball coach, a teacher from third grade—all the while wishing that he could disappear. In the decade of his absence, he had learned to dislike standing out.

Reaching the first pew, he spotted his mother between his uncle, Jack, and brother, Teddy. He paused, glancing at the casket, then slid between Clarice Blaine and his brother. His mother remained almost perfect in appearance, Adam thought—the refined features, sculpted nose, and composed expression of an East Coast patrician, her blond hair now brightened by artifice. As he gave her a brief kiss on the cheek, her blue eyes filled with gratitude, and she clasped his hand. Then Adam felt Teddy grasp his shoulder.

Inclining his head toward his brother, Adam caught the complex smile on Teddy’s sensitive face—fondness for Adam, bemusement at their circumstances. “Can you believe he’s in there?” Teddy whispered. “I’m still afraid this is a prank.”

Silent, Adam stared at the burnished coffin, the white cloth cover filigreed with gold. However richly Benjamin Blaine deserved the hatred of both sons, the enormity of his death was difficult to absorb—a man in his sixties, still ravenous for life, cut short in so strange a way. How many times, Adam wondered, had Teddy wished aloud to him for this moment? Yet its reality left Adam with the fruitless, painful wish that he and his father had been different, that he could feel the ache of love and loss instead of this wrenching bitterness, the painful question Why? for which no answer could suffice. He was back, Adam realized, and once more Benjamin Blaine had shattered his illusions. Adam had not resolved their past.

Nor would this service from the Book of Common Prayer, the touchstone of Clarice Blaine’s heritage, provide balm for her sons’ souls. “The trouble with Protestant funerals,” a colleague had remarked to Adam after the murder of a friend, “is that they offer no catharsis.” But for his mother the familiar ritual, that with which she had buried both her parents, might spread the gloss of decorum over the deeper truths of her marriage.

Standing near the casket, a young Episcopal priest recited the Burial of the Dead:

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…

Adam believed none of it. In his recent experience, death was random, ugly, and very final, all too often the work of men whose God commanded these acts. That world, like this service, offered no transcendence. His only comfort was that the survivors loved one another, and now might find some peace.

Adam glanced at his mother, then his brother, trying to read their faces. Clarice wore her public expression, a mask of dignity she used to conceal more complicated feelings. But Teddy’s dark eyes, cast now at the polished wooden floor, seemed to hold some anguished memory. At whatever age, Adam knew, some part of us is always a child, feeling pleasure at a parent’s love or the wounds of a parent’s disdain. The man inside the coffin had wounded Teddy long ago, too deeply to forget. From beneath the drone of the service, a memory of their father surfaced unbidden, as much about Teddy as Adam.

It was from that final summer, meant to be a bridge between Adam’s first and second years at law school, after which life would become too serious to savor the days of sun and sea and wind so evocative of his youth. The summer that instead transformed Adam’s life completely.

From FALL FROM GRACE by Richard North Patterson. Copyright © 2012 by Richard North Patterson. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.