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Sleeping Beauty - 2004

-- Library Journal
"Ashley Spencer’s life is shattered when a killer enters her home one night, brutally stabs her father to death, and rapes and murders her best friend. In an attempt to help her regain some stability, her mother enrolls Ashley in the prestigious Oregon Academy.

Ashley’s mother seeks diversion by taking a creative writing class from former best-selling author Joshua Maxfield, who startles her by reading a chapter from a work in progress that mirrors the murder of her husband. The twists and turns of the plot keep the suspense ratcheted up to an excruciating level. Using the law and an insider’s knowledge of the writer’s life, Margolin has created another sure winner. His first novel, Gone but Not Forgotten, has long been one of the hallmark novels dealing with serial killers and their’ motivation. In this work, Margolin has brought new life to that subgenre. ‘This is for jaded readers who believe that there is nothing new and fresh in the mystery field."

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Excerpt from Sleeping Beauty:


The bellman Claire Rolvag was looking for was standing next to the box with the keys of guests who parked in the hotel garage. She turned into the long, circular driveway, pulled around a cab, and parked her shiny new Lexus in front of him.

“Carlos?” she asked when he walked over to the driver's window.

“That's me.”

“I'm Claire. I'm filling in for Barbara Bridger, just for tonight.”

“She told me what you'd be driving,” Carlos said as he opened Claire's door. Claire grabbed the book that lay on her passenger seat and got out.

“It'll be over there,” he said, pointing to an area at the end of the driveway.

Claire thanked Carlos and handed him a folded bill, which he slipped into his pocket. He was driving the car to the spot he'd indicated when the doorman welcomed Claire to the Newbury, one of Seattle 's finest hotels.

There was a convention in town and the Newbury was packed with laughing, chatting people. Claire shouldered through them until she stood in the center of the lobby. She scanned the crowd. He wasn't there. A bell signaled the arrival of an elevator. Claire cast an anxious glance at her watch, then focused on the group of conventioneers that poured out. For a moment Claire did not see him. Then Miles Van Meter was standing in front of the bank of elevators. His sandy blond hair and blue eyes had been touched up in the color photograph on the back of the book jacket of Sleeping Beauty to hide his gray hairs, and he was a little shorter than Claire had imagined, but he was just as handsome in person as he was on television.

The lawyer-turned-writer was in his forties, five-foot-ten, broad shouldered, and trim. He had dressed in a tailored gray pinstripe suit, white Oxford cloth shirt, and a tasteful Armani tie. Most escorts would have been surprised by the elegance of Van Meter's attire. Male authors traditionally wore sports jackets on their tours—if they wore jackets at all—and damn few brought ties with them. You packed light and opted for comfort when you spent weeks of one-nighters, rising before dawn each day to catch another short flight to another strange city. But Miles Van Meter, a corporate attorney with a large firm of business lawyers, was used to traveling first class and dressing expensively.

Van Meter spotted Claire easily because she was holding a copy of his true-crime bestseller. He guessed that the attractive brunette was in her mid-thirties and would be peppy and efficient, as were most of the author escorts who shepherded him through his appearances in the often unfamiliar cities he visited each day of his grueling, six-week book tour.

Miles held up his hands in a mock plea for forgiveness. “Sorry, I know I'm late. My plane from Cleveland was delayed.”

“It's not a problem,” Claire assured him. “I just got here myself, and the store is only twenty minutes away.”

Miles started to say something. Then he paused and looked at Claire more closely.

“You didn't take me around last time, did you?”

“You're thinking of Barbara Bridger. She owns the escort business. I'm just filling in. Her son came down with the flu and Dave—her husband—is out of town on business.”

“Okay. I thought it was someone else. You do this a lot?”

“My first time, actually,” Claire answered as they left the lobby and headed toward her car. “Barb and I are good friends and I told her I'd be willing to help if she ever got in a jam. So. . . .”

As Claire shrugged, Carlos spotted them crossing toward him and ran over to open the passenger door for Miles. He knew the drill. She was hired help. Miles Van Meter was the star.

It was a little before seven at night when Claire pulled into traffic. Rain was falling, so she switched on the wipers.

“You didn't do Murder for Fun last time, did you?” Claire asked.

“No. I think I hit one of the superstores, Barnes and Noble or Borders. I'm not sure which. After a few days they all blur together.”

“You'll like this store. It's small but Jill Lane , the owner, always makes certain that there's a big crowd.”

“Great,” Miles said, but Claire sensed that the enthusiasm was manufactured. She knew that her author had been on the road for three and a half weeks, which meant that he was probably sleep-deprived and running on fumes.

“Is your room okay?”

“I'm in a suite with a view. Not that I'll get much use out of it. I've got a six forty-five flight to Boston tomorrow morning. Then it's on to Des Moines , Omaha , and I forget where after that.”

Claire laughed. “You're doing pretty well. Barb says that after three weeks on the road most of her authors can't remember where they were the day before.” Claire checked her watch. “There's a cooler in the back seat with soft drinks and bottled water, if you want any.”

“No, I'm fine.”

“ Did you get a chance to eat?”

“On the plane.”

Miles closed his eyes and leaned back against the headrest. Claire decided to let him relax in silence for the rest of the ride.

Murder for Fun was a mystery bookstore located in a strip mall on the outskirts of the city. Claire parked around back, next to the service entrance. She'd phoned from the car when they were a few minutes away, and Jill Lane opened the back door after her first knock. Jill was a pleasant, heavyset woman with salt-and-pepper hair. She had on a peasant dress and wore a turquoise-and-silver Native American necklace and matching earrings. Jill had retired after a successful career as a real estate broker. Reading mysteries had been her passion, and she'd jumped at the chance to buy the store when the first owner had to move to Arizona for his health.

“I can't thank you enough for coming, Mr. Van Meter,” Jill said as she ushered Claire and Miles inside. “And you're going to be very pleased with the audience. We've got a full house. All of the seats have been taken and there are people standing in the aisles between the bookshelves.”

Miles couldn't help smiling. “That's very flattering.”

“Oh, the book is great. And Joshua Maxfield's appeal put the case back on the front pages. Di d you know that Maxfield's two novels have been reissued? They're back on the bestseller lists.”

Van Meter sobered.

“I'm sorry,” Jill apologized immediately. “That was insensitive of me.”

“No, it's okay.” Miles shook his head. “It's just that I can't help thinking about Casey when I hear Maxfield's name.”

The back door opened into a storeroom/office. A desk overflowing with paperwork stood next to one wall, and cartons filled with new releases were piled against another. Stacks of books were everywhere. A table stood in the center of the room. On it were several copies of Sleeping

Beauty. Jill pointed to them.

“Would you sign these before you leave? We've had requests from several people who couldn't make it tonight and customers who ordered off our Internet site.”

“I'd be glad to.”

Jill peeked through the office door and down the short hall that led to the front of the bookstore. Miles and Claire heard a rumble of conversation.

“Do you need anything?” Jill asked. “I've got a bottle of water on the podium and there's a mike. I think you'll have to use it.”

Miles smiled. “Let's do it.”

Jill led the way down the hall. Murder for Fun was dark, dusty, and crammed with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, separated by narrow aisles. The shelves were designated as the homes of “New Arrivals,” “Hardboiled,” “True Crime,” and other mystery categories by hand-lettered signs, giving the store a homey feel that reflected Jill's personality. A podium was standing in one corner of the store. Several rows of bridge chairs had been set up in front of it. The chairs all held customers, many of whom held hardcover or paperback copies of Sleeping Beauty that they hoped Miles would sign.

A rustle of applause greeted Jill's appearance. She walked to the podium with Miles in tow. Claire moved around the edge of the crowd and settled near a musty shelf dedicated to mysteries set in exotic locales.

“Thank you for coming out on this dark and stormy night,” Jill said to scattered laughs. “I think you'll find the trip well worth it. Tonight, we are fortunate to have with us Miles Van Meter, the author of Sleeping Beauty, one of the most compelling true-crime stories I've ever read.

“Mr. Van Meter was born in Portland , Oregon , and is the son of the late Henry Van Meter, a member of a prominent timber family. Henry took over the family business when his father died but he had many other interests, among them education. Henry founded the Oregon Academy , the elite private school where many of the terrible events recounted in Sleeping Beauty occurred. Miles and his twin sister, Casey Van Meter, were educated at the Academy. After high school, Miles went on to Stanford, his father's alma mater, and Stanford Law School . He still practices business law in Portland .

“As many of you know, Sleeping Beauty was originally published several years ago. This new edition was just released with additional chapters that recount the startling events that occurred after the book's initial publication. Tonight, Mr. Van Meter is going to read from Sleeping Beauty, then he'll graciously answer your questions. So, please give a warm welcome to Miles Van Meter.”

The applause was immediate and heartfelt. Jill stepped aside and Miles took her place at the podium. He sipped some water and arranged his papers while he waited for the ovation to die down.

“Thank you. Receptions like this made it possible for me to go on during those dark years that followed Joshua Maxfield's brutal attack on my beloved sister, Casey. As you might guess, talking about what happened to Casey is not easy. To be honest, writing this book was not easy. But I began this project because I felt that it was something I had to do to keep Casey's memory alive. And I also wanted to keep these terrible events in the spotlight to force the authorities—the police, the FBI—to hunt down Maxfield and bring him to justice—not just for the horrible crimes he committed against my family and the family of Ashley Spencer, but for all the other people whose lives were fouled by his inhuman acts of murder and torture.

“So, I wrote Sleeping Beauty and I went around the country, and when I started, I can tell you that I was depressed, because the outlook for Casey was bleak and Joshua Maxfield was still at large. But everywhere I went people like you told me how real my book had made Casey seem, and you told me that you were praying for her. That raised me up in my darkest hours, and I want to thank you for that.”

The audience erupted again. Miles looked down at the podium to collect himself. After a moment, the applause stopped and Miles held up a copy of his book, on which was aµxed a gold stamp emblazoned in raised letters with special edition.

“I'm going to read the first chapter of Sleeping Beauty. After my reading I'll stay to answer any questions you have and I'd be pleased to sign your books.”

Miles opened Sleeping Beauty, took a sip of water, and began to read.

“Why do we fear serial killers so much more than other murderers?
I believe we fear them because we cannot understand why they kill and torture helpless people against whom they cannot possibly bear any rational form of malice. We know why angry husbands and wives slay each other. We can see a cause-and-effect relationship when a gang eliminates a rival gangster. We feel safe when we know that a murderer has no reason to harm us. But we feel at risk when someone like Joshua Maxfield is at large, because no rational person can fathom what motivated him to perform his horrible acts in the Spencer home one cold March night during Ashley Spencer's seventeenth year on this earth.

“On that fateful evening, Ashley was a junior at Eisenhower High School in Portland, Oregon. She was a pretty, cheerful girl with bright blue eyes and straight blond hair she wore most often in a ponytail. Ashley looked solid and powerful because she had trained hard for years to be a top soccer player. The training had paid off. In the fall, she had been the star of her high school soccer team and first team All-State. After the high school season, Ashley played on an elite club team. Earlier that day, F. C. West Hills had won a close match against a tough rival and the coach had hosted a pizza party for the team.

“Where did Joshua Maxfield see Ashley for the first time? Was it in the pizzeria? Was he lurking in the crowd at the soccer game? The police have examined home movies of the soccer match and the pizza party, and there is no trace of Maxfield in the frames. Maybe theirs was simply a chance encounter on the street or in a mall. In the end, how they met is not as important as the horrific consequences of that meeting for the Spencer family and for my family.

“Sometime around two a.m. Maxfield entered the Spencer home through a sliding door at the rear of the house and crept up the stairs to the second floor. Norman Spencer was sleeping alone in the master bedroom, because Terri Spencer, Ashley's mother and a reporter on Portland's daily newspaper, was on assignment in eastern Oregon. Norman was thirty-seven when he died. He had taught junior high school for several years and was well liked by all who knew him.

“Maxfield attacked Norman Spencer first, stabbing him repeatedly as he slept. Then he moved down the second-floor landing. Staying with Ashley was Tanya Jones, a slender, African-American honor student, who was All-State honorable mention. Tanya was Ashley's teammate and best friend. They had both scored goals that day, and Tanya's mother had given her permission to sleep over. Ashley's door squeaked a little when it opened. We can guess that the noise awakened Tanya. When Ashley opened her eyes, she saw her friend sitting up in bed, and the silhouette of a man in her doorway. Then Tanya arched back and collapsed sideways onto the floor. Ashley had no idea what had happened to her friend until she leaped out of bed and was hit by Maxfield's stun gun.

“Maxfield was on Ashley immediately. Before she knew it, she was bound hand and foot and Maxfield was carrying Tanya Jones next door to the guest bedroom. Ashley struggled against her bonds but was unable to break them. Moans of pain came from the guest room. The sudden sounds paralyzed Ashley.

“Tanya Jones's autopsy report recounts in detail the horrors that she endured at Maxfield's hands. To Ashley, Tanya's ordeal seemed to go on for a long time, but she probably suffered only fifteen minutes or less. The medical examiner concluded that Tanya was beaten and partially strangled, then raped and stabbed violently and repeatedly. Many of her knife wounds were delivered in a fury after she was dead.

“Ashley lay on her bed waiting to die. Then the door to the guest bedroom closed and Maxfield, dressed in black and wearing a ski mask and gloves, was standing in Ashley's doorway. She believed that he had come to rape and murder her. Instead, after watching her for a few seconds, he whispered, ‘See you later,' and went downstairs. Moments later, Ashley heard the refrigerator door open.

“We must assume that Joshua Maxfield temporarily spared Ashley because he was exhausted and famished after raping and murdering Tanya Jones. That would explain why he took a break from his ghastly tasks to go to the Spencer kitchen, where he drank a glass of milk and ate a piece of chocolate cake. Eating the snack would land Maxfield on death row, and writing about it would cause another tragedy.”

From Sleeping Beauty. Copyright © 2004 by Phillip Margolin. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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