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Authors: Frédérique Molay

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The 7th Woman

The 7th Woman
Nico Sirsky [1]
Frédérique Molay
France : (2012)

There's no rest for Paris's top criminal investigation division, La Crim'. Who is preying on women in the French capital? How can he kill again and again without leaving any clues? A serial killer is taking pleasure in a macabre ritual that leaves the police on tenterhooks. Chief of Police Nico Sirsky—a super cop with a modern-day real life, including an ex-wife, a teenage son and a budding love story—races against the clock to solve the murders as they get closer and closer to his inner circle. Will he resist the pressure? The story grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until the last page, leading you behind the scenes with the French police and...

Praise for
The 7
th
Woman

Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year

“Frédérique Molay is the French Michael Connelly.”
— Jean Miot, journalist, former editorial director of the French daily
Le Figaro
and former president of Agence France Presse (AFP)


The 7th Woman
is a taut and terror-filled thriller. Frédérique Molay navigates French police procedure with a deft touch, creating a lightening quick, sinister plot with twists and turns that kept me reading late and guessing to the very end. Inspector Nico Sirsky is every bit as engaging and dogged as Arkady Renko in
Gorky Park
and is sure to become a favorite with readers in the United States and around the world.”
— New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni


The 7th Woman
blends suspense and authentic police procedure with a parallel tale of redemption. Well-drawn characters and ratcheting tension won't let you put the book down. I read this in one sitting.”
— Paris mystery writer Cara Black

“It's a beautifully written book with everything a mystery reader craves.”
— Leigh Neely, CriminalElement.com

“A remarkable plot that races forward and focuses on likeable characters. An unequivocal success.”
— L'Action Française

“It's really an excellent book. It's the kind of suspense that makes you miss your subway stop or turn off you phone once you've started it, and we are hoping that Frédérique Molay writes many more like it.”
— RTL

“An excellent crime novel that you read in one sitting.”
— L'Express/Lire

“Skillful suspense”
— Lire

“You barely have time to catch your breath between turning the pages of this spine-tingling novel.”
— Ciné Télé Revue

Winner of the 2007 Prix du Quai des Orfèvres

This prestigious French annual crime fiction prize was established in 1946 by Jacques Catineau, a big name in French publishing and advertising, to recognize the best unpublished crime fiction novel written in French. The
directeur de la police judiciaire
—the national police commissioner—presides over the Prix du Quai des Orfèvres, and the jury is made up of people from law enforcement, the court system, entertainment and publishing.

Frédérique Molay
Translated from French by Anne Trager

THE 7
TH
WOMAN

All rights reserved: no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

First published in France as
La 7e femme
by Librairie Arthème Fayard
World copyright © 2006 Librairie Arthème Fayard
English translation copyright © 2012 Anne Trager

First published in English in 2012
By Le French Book, Inc., New York
http://www.lefrenchbook.com

Copyediting by Amy Richards
Cover designed by Melanie Hooyenga at
Ink Slinger Designs
eBook designed by
the eBook Artisans

E-book original published in 2012
ISBN:
978-0-9853206-6-9
978-0-9853206-7-6

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

“Trials never show us the face we are expecting.”

— François Mauriac

MONDAY
1
Marie-Hélène

I
T FELT LIKE LIGHTNING had struck him. He couldn't breathe. His mouth was dry, and his throat tight. He was free-falling. She was wildly attractive: about thirty-five, five and half feet tall, slender, with short auburn hair and brown eyes highlighted by plain eyeglasses. Her voice was soft and steady. She had a keen, friendly and reassuring look in her eyes, and a smile illuminated her face—a magnificent smile. He stared at her intensely, like a pimply teenager entranced by a Playboy cover girl.

“So, you're Mr. Sirsky, is that correct?” she asked. She was sitting behind her desk, her fingers absently playing with a pen.

He nodded.

“Nico Sirsky. Is your first name Nico?” she continued in a voice that was so memorable, it would be distinguished from all others from that moment on.

“Yes. It's not a nickname.”

“When were you born?”

“January 11, thirty-eight years ago.”

“What do you do?”

“I'm divorced.”

What a strange answer, but it was the first one that came to mind when he looked at her. He had married too young—when he was twenty-two—and had a child. He was single again and not particularly interested in women, except for an occasional roll in the hay. No woman had ever had this effect on him. He had thought these feelings were the stuff of novels and movies.

“Mr. Sirsky?” the young woman insisted.

He looked at her hands. No wedding ring.

“Mr. Sirsky!”

“What would you like to know?” he asked, suddenly sheepish.

“Your profession would be enough.”

What an ass he was being.

“Chief of police.”

“And more specifically?”

“Head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division.”

“Would that be the
brigade criminelle
at 36 Quai des Orfèvres?”

“That's right,
La Crim'
.”

“I suppose it's a stressful job.”

“True enough. But no more than yours, I guess.”

She smiled. She was incredible.

“So, who sent you to see me—your brother-in-law, Dr. Perrin, right?” she continued.

His sister had insisted. She behaved like his mother.

“What exactly is wrong?”

“Not much.”

“Please, Mr. Sirsky, let
me
be the judge of that.”

“I've had a stomachache for about three months.”

“Have you already seen a doctor?”

“Never.”

“What does the pain feel like?”

“Burning,” he said with a sigh. “And some cramps.”

It was out of character for him to admit any kind of weakness.

“Are you more anxious or tired than usual?”

He frowned. His work was weighing on him. He was waking up in the middle of the night, haunted by visions of bloody bodies. It was impossible for him to share the anxiety that assailed him. Who could he confide in? His colleagues? From time to time they did spend an evening together, joking about corpses to chase away the ghosts. But nothing could keep a cop grounded better than going home to a family and reconnecting with day-to-day life. Routine cares allowed you to put priorities in perspective and forget the day's sordid experiences. That is why he hired married men with children. Eighty percent of his staff met these criteria. They needed this balance to withstand the pressure of the cases they worked at the
brigade criminelle
. He alone did not respect the rule he required the others to follow.

“Mr. Sirsky, you haven't answered my question,” the young woman said, annoyed.

He put on a mulish look that made her understand that she wouldn't get any more out of him, and she changed the subject.

“Does anything calm the pain?”

“I tried eating, but that doesn't change a thing.”

“Get undressed, and lie down on the table.”

“Uh, totally undressed?”

“You can keep your underwear on.”

He got up and obeyed. His tall and muscular build, blue eyes and blond hair impressed women, but here he was a little uncomfortable. She approached him and put her hands on his flat stomach to examine him. He shivered. Erotic images raced through his mind.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“Medical examiners are the only doctors I know, and you can be sure that they haven't left me wanting to be treated by any others,” he responded, hoping she would believe him.

“I understand. However, some situations require that you see a specialist without delay. What do you feel when I press here?”

He didn't take his eyes off her. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her. Damn it. What was happening to him?

“Mr. Sirsky, if you don't help me out here, we won't get anywhere.”

“Oh, sorry. What were you saying?”

“Where does it hurt?”

He put a finger on the middle of his abdomen, brushing the woman's hands. She palpated and then had him sit on the edge of the table to take his blood pressure. She returned to her desk when she had finished. He would have preferred that she stay near him.

“Get dressed, Mr. Sirsky. You are going to need some tests.”

“What kind of tests?”

“One of them will be an endoscopy. The doctor will put an optical instrument down your throat to explore your digestive tract. The walls of your stomach and your duodenum will appear on a screen.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“Absolutely. We need to determine the exact causes of your symptoms. It could be an ulcer. We can't treat you until we have a precise diagnosis. An endoscopic examination is not very pleasant, but it doesn't last long.”

“Do you think it's serious?”

“There are several types of digestive ulcers. In your case, I think it is probably a duodenal ulcer, which is generally benign. Although it's usually caused by bacteria, stress and fatigue can make the symptoms feel worse. But we need to be sure. What do you do other than work?”

He thought for a while.

“Run and play squash. And shoot, of course.”

“You should slow down. Everyone deserves some rest.”

“You sound like my sister.”

“She gives good advice. Here's a prescription. Once you've had the endoscopy, make another appointment with my secretary.”

“You're not going to do it?”

“A doctor in the department will do it.”

He put his obstinate look on again.

“Is something wrong, Mr. Sirsky?”

“Listen, I'd like you to do it. Would that be possible?”

She looked at him calmly and understood that he would not give up if she did not accept his request.

“OK.”

She took out her appointment book and turned the ink-blackened pages.

“You look overbooked, and I'm adding to it,” he said.

“Don't worry, we'll find a time. We have to do it quickly. Wednesday morning at eight. Will that work for you?”

“Of course. I'm not going to push my luck.”

She stood and accompanied him to the door. There, her handshake was both caring and firm. He was sorry to leave. One final time, he read the nameplate affixed to the office door: “Dr. Caroline Dalry, professor of medicine, gastroenterologist, former Paris Hospitals chief resident.”

ONCE he was outside Saint Antoine Hospital, the sounds of the city enveloped him, and he continued daydreaming about her delicate hands touching his stomach. Then a dull upper-abdominal pain brought him back to reality.

His cell phone vibrated on his hip. It was Commander Kriven, the head of one of the
brigade criminelle's
twelve squads.

“We've got a customer,” he announced in a deep voice. “It's an unusual murder. You should come.”

“Who's the victim?”

“Marie-Hélène Jory, thirty-six, white, assistant professor of history at the Sorbonne. Killed in her home, Place de la Contrescarpe in the Latin Quarter. Homicide with sexual overtones. The scene is particularly, well, shocking.”

“Who found her?”

“Someone named Paul Terrade, her partner.”

“He wasn't working?”

“He was, but the university was worried when she didn't show up for her class at one this afternoon. A secretary called his office, and he went home to see why she wasn't at work.”

“Breaking and entering?”

“No signs.”

Nico looked at his watch, which showed four thirty. It had been about two hours since the body was discovered. It was a miracle of sorts. Some evidence might still be intact, unless a lot of people had gone in and out of the apartment.

“I'll be right there.”

“You don't really have a choice in the matter.”

Squad commanders were under orders to request his presence or his deputy's presence whenever they thought the situation was serious enough.

“And ask Dominique Kreiss to join us,” Nico added. “Her input could be interesting.”

She was a criminal psychologist with the Regional Police Department, recently hired for a brand new profiling unit. She wasn't there to take over the investigation, but to provide detectives with her psychological expertise. Considering what Kriven had described, it seemed fitting that she go to the scene. Analyzing sexually related murders was Ms. Kreiss' specialization.

“Can't we call in the old bearded shrink?” Kriven grumbled. “That brunette's cute little ass distracts me!”

“Get your mind out of the gutter, would you, Kriven?”

“Impossible with the body she's got.”

“I'm hanging up now. I don't want to hear any more of that crap. See you in a few.”

THE Latin Quarter reminded him of his childhood. His grandparents had a shop on Rue Mouffetard. He recalled the days he spent playing with the kids of other shop owners on the street, not far from the Saint Ménard Church. That kind of neighborhood conviviality was long gone now.

These days, the Place de la Contrescarpe was a tourist haunt because of its cafés. As Nico approached, he saw that the café customers were gawking at the building, where an unmarked police cruiser, its lights flashing, was blocking the entrance. A man was slumped over the Renault's backseat. Two police officers were guarding the car. You could tell by their determined look that they had no intention of letting the guy get away. David Kriven stepped out of the building to meet Sirsky.

“We're lucky, Chief,” he said. “The precinct officer had the good sense to evacuate everyone before he contacted us. It's all clean.”

He meant that no other police units had been able to tread on the crime scene before being told that the case was outside their jurisdiction. Too often, evidence was ruined by the time
La Crim'
was called in. Sometimes the body had already been removed. Those were not easy investigations. Yes, things were improving, but there was still a long way to go. To get the job done right, they really needed an efficient cop, which they had today.

“Where is this prodigious one?” Nico asked.

“On the third floor, standing in front of the apartment door. He's monitoring who's going in and out.”

The two men walked up the stairs slowly. Nico studied the walls and each step to soak up the atmosphere. Then he held out his hand to the young officer, gratifying him with a warm smile.

“I showed up at three. I discovered the body and immediately knew that this wasn't an ordinary case.”

“Why is that?” Nico asked.

“The woman, uh, well, at least what's been done to her. It's disgusting. I'll be honest. I couldn't even stay near her. It's enough to upset any man.”

“Don't be fooled,” Nico said. “We all wind up being affected. Anyone who says otherwise is just showing off.”

The officer nodded and let them through. Nico took the usual precautions. He didn't touch anything and did nothing that would destroy any evidence. David Kriven did the same, with the same attention.

Each of the division's squads had six members. The third member—there was an established order based on experience and the role each member played—was the one responsible for the procedural aspects. Pierre Vidal had waited for Chief Sirsky before he started his work of collecting and sealing the evidence. He usually worked alone. For this one, he would do his job under the watchful eyes of Kriven and Sirsky.

The three detectives entered the living room. The victim lay on a thick cream-colored carpet.

“Shit. No,” Nico let slip, despite himself.

He squatted near the body and said nothing more. What could he say? The epitome of horror was spread out in front of him. Did man's perversity have no limits? He couldn't hold back a retch. He looked at his colleagues, all of whom were pale.

“See if Dominique Kreiss is here,” he ordered.

David Kriven looked away from the body, and Chief Sirsky told the officers to step out momentarily, perhaps to give them a break

“Go on. Now,” Nico commanded.

Commander Kriven and Captain Vidal left the apartment, relieved.

CHIEF Sirsky stayed near the young woman without moving and little by little noted the abuse she had been subjected to. The torture had been intense, the kind to make you lose your mind before you die. He thought about the probable unfolding of the murder and the killer's profile. He presumed that it was a lone man. He felt it. He knew it. Every emotion left him, which always happened at a crime scene. His work required him to stay focused, even in the most gruesome cases. But now his stomach began burning again. He touched his abdomen. He was letting this get to him, and he would have to calm down. How could he not react to this level of atrocity? Suddenly, Dr. Dalry's face came to him. She was smiling and holding out her hand, so gentle. She touched his cheek. He wanted to kiss her so much. He got nearer and nearer …

The apartment door opened, and steps rang out in the hallway. David Kriven was leading the squad in. The psychologist followed. She was small, thirty-two years old, with bright, mischievous green eyes. Dominique Kreiss squatted next to Chief Sirsky. The professional in her took in the crime scene without blinking. She looked unaffected by the repugnant vision and the smell of death. Dominique Kreiss had a degree in clinical criminology and was a specialist in sexual assault. She wanted to fit right into the mainly male team of detectives working at 36 Quai des Orfèvres. If for no other reason than that, she never showed any weakness in front of her colleagues.

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