- Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
- Published: April 6, 2010
Christopher Rice, the author of four New York Times bestselling novels by the age of thirty, returns with his first female protagonist since The Snow Garden. In The Moonlit Earth, he delivers a compelling psychological thriller about a young woman who must act to save her brother’s reputation and life when he is accused of being involved in a terrorist act. When Megan and Cameron Reynolds’s father walked out on their mother, they forged an unbreakable bond. If their father could not be there to take care of them, they would always be there to take care of each other. But life intervenes, and siblings go separate ways . . . until something happens to reforge that bond.
At thirty, faced with disappointments in career and romance, Megan Reynolds returns to the safety of Cathedral Beach, the home of her mother, who lives among the wealthy with no money of her own. Cameron worries that his sister will lose herself around their mother’s frivolous life, but Megan worries more about her brother. She worries that Cameron’s carefree charm, which makes him popular in both his work as a flight attendant on a luxury airline and the West Hollywood party scene he enjoys, could lead him into danger.
When a bomb goes off in a luxury hotel in Hong Kong, security-camera footage appears on television showing two men escaping: one Middle Eastern and one American. Megan and her mother recognize the young American as Cameron—and find that he has become enmeshed with a mysterious family of wealthy Saudis.
In her desperate journey to save her brother’s life, Megan uncovers a trail of secrets and intrigue that snakes from the decadent beaches of southern Thailand to the glass skyscrapers of Hong Kong—and finds herself part of a dark global conspiracy that involves a member of her own family.
“Christopher Rice shows his guns by weaving family secrets, breakneck plotting and true-to-life characters into a thriller of unusual depth. The Moonlit Earth is intense, moving and rich in ways that promise a stellar career. Well done!”
— ROBERT CRAIS, author of Chasing Darkness and The First Rule
“Christopher Rice delivers it all: action, suspense, and international intrigue. The Moonlit Earth is a timely and tautly told tale.”
— TAMI HOAG, author of Deeper Than The Dead
From PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY
“At the start of this compelling cat-and-mouse thriller from bestseller Rice (Blind Fall), 30-year-old Megan Reynolds has returned to her mother’s house in posh Cathedral Beach near San Diego after being fired as head of a Northern California nonprofit organization for homeless kids that she tried to save using unorthodox methods. Megan soon faces a far greater challenge. Her beloved gay brother, Cameron, a handsome flight attendant for Peninsula Airlines, disappears with Majed, a suspicious Middle Easterner, in the wake of a terrorist bombing in Hong Kong that killed 60 people. When the FBI investigators point to Cameron as a suspect in the attack, Megan embarks on a dangerous mission to find her brother and help clear his name. Megan’s journey will test her endurance and her faith in family in unexpected ways. Rice sensitively charts the relationship of two close-knit siblings.”
They brought her into the building through the back door so they could avoid the reporters out front.
The interrogation room was a combination of so many she had seen on television, only without the deep pockmarks and stained walls production designers seemed so fond of. Everything was clean, institutional, bland. No shiny or polished surfaces. No messages from the accused carved into the table before her.
She couldn’t help wondering what role television might play in the hours to come. Were the two agents sitting across from her accustomed to their witnesses taking cues from the most popular crime drama of the moment? Would she seem like an idiot, or worse, would she seem guilty if she uttered any of those stock phrases?
You are not criminal, she reminded herself for what felt like the hundredth time. You are here at the insistence of your family to make it clear that your family had nothing to do with this nightmare.
She caught herself before she uttered these words aloud. Fredericks, the male agent, leaned forward a bit with a sympathetic expression on his face, and Megan realized her lips had actually moved in time with her thoughts. Her cheeks flamed. She clasped her hands between her knees. But Fredericks waited patiently, with no trace of anything in his expression other than mild curiosity. Because she was so focused on the goal of keeping her mouth shut, Megan lost sight of the fact that she was staring at the man across from her like a slackjawed idiot, as if she might draw some comfort from his closecropped jet-black hair and his apple cheeks, tightly bunched above the expanse of his long, lipless mouth. When she realized this, the awkwardness of the moment overtook her.
So she started talking, and when she did, she followed the whispered advice her mother had given her just moments earlier when they were in the car together. “Tell them the things only you can tell them, Meg. Don’t say he didn’t do it. They’re expecting you to say that. Tell them why. For God’s sake, show them why if you have to.”
So instead of proclaiming Cameron’s innocence, she began telling them how she had taught her brother to swim in the ocean. She hadn’t taught him how to swim, of course. That had been the job of a counselor at the Pacific Beach Day Camp when they were both a few years younger. But getting him over his fear of the open water—guiding him by one hand to the small lip of sand on the southern shore of the Cathedral Beach cove and giving him the words he needed to tell himself to swim to the other side without freaking out and turning back—all of that had been Megan’s doing, and there were few accomplishments in her life she was more proud of.
The rules were simple. Keep your gaze straight ahead before you start. Don’t even think of looking to the right, across the yards of rippling water to where the whitecaps finally break against the broad beach of mud-colored sand. Do that and you’ll realize how deep the water you’re about to swim actually is, and it’s over. Just plain over. And remember that the long line of orange buoys intended to keep boats out of the cove are attached to the bottom so you can grab on to one if you get tired. And don’t forget about the kayakers. One or two are sure to glide by every few minutes after they tire of nosing through the rocky outcroppings and tiny caverns that rim the cove. They can always help if things get dicey.
But things wouldn’t get dicey, she assured him. Because his big sister would be right behind him, following him the entire way.
And she had kept her word, dog-paddling for a good part of the way so she could monitor her brother’s progress. He took off from shore too quickly and veered off course within minutes, like a firefly trying to move through the hem of a taffeta curtain. Worse, his breaths came so quickly in those first minutes that it looked like he was keeping time to his kicks instead of his strokes. But a little more than halfway across the cove, he found his rhythm, got his bearings, made contact with that place that exists inside every person where the fires of fear run out of fuel on the hard bedrock of our ambitions.
How long had she been talking? Neither agent had interrupted her, and it didn’t look like either one was about to. But embarrassment gripped her nonetheless, and in the respectful silence that followed, she tried to recall the cold caress of ocean water around her bare legs, the gentle deafening of the ocean’s surface lapping at her ears.
“How long ago?” It took Megan a few minutes to realize it was the female agent who had spoken. Her last name was Loehmann.
“Nineteen ninety-two,” Megan answered. Just saying the year out loud felt like some sort of irrevocable commitment. In attempting to share an innocent story about her love for her brother, she had steered the three of them toward a year in her life when everything had changed, a year that remained stenciled in her memory in bright red ink, like some sort of horror movie parody of those glittering numerals the ball in Times Square dips behind every New Year’s Eve.
The truth was most people in Cathedral Beach changed that year. Maybe it had something to do with Bill Clinton’s being elected president. The town’s inhabitants became more contentious because they were scared, just like all the other rich white people in the country who suddenly felt less protected. And of course, there was Clinton’s promise to allow gays to serve in the military, which lit up all of San Diego County like a bonfire. Seeing how her younger brother retreated into himself when the other students at school berated fag-loving Clinton was Megan’s first indication that her little brother had feelings inside himself that were more terrifying to him than his nightmares of what might have been lurking below the surface of the cove prior to their first swim.
Then the very face of the town began to change. The Village was the term by which residents referred to the plateau of boutique-lined streets studded with Queen Anne palms that lay just south of the cove, and throughout Megan’s childhood, the town council had managed to keep the chain stores out of it. But in ’92 someone either got paid off or just got sick of shouting at soulless corporate types during planning meetings. Within a year, Judy’s Books was replaced by a B. Dalton and The Card Corner was replaced by a Hallmark. Then came a new waterfront condo development, which at seven stories of glass and steel was regarded by most of the town’s old-timers as an unacceptable, skyline-destroying high-rise.
Then the first storm of controversy broke around the giant crucifix atop Mount Inverness. The base of the cross was lined with photos of dead veterans of the world wars, but to a small group of homeowners who lived at the base of the hill and across a verdant gully, the cross was an unacceptable endorsement of a specific religion planted squarely on city property by a small but powerful community of the obscenely wealthy. Seventeen years later, there was still no real end in sight to the dispute. Indeed, every phone call home Megan had made to her mother during her four years at UC Berkeley had been marked by some unsolicited update on the cross controversy.
Were they trying to get her to let her guard down? Was that their motive for allowing her to walk them through these tedious civic details? Maybe they thought she would let slip some tale indicating that her younger brother had a depraved psychopathic streak running through him, the kind of tale that only two impassive FBI agents could hear the truth in?“Your father left you guys in ninety-two, didn’t he?” It was Fredericks this time. At first Megan wanted to be shocked. Had the man read her mind? Of course not. He had read whatever files there were on her. Files even she didn’t know existed. And maybe, at this very moment, two agents just like them were asking her father the same question.
Maybe the man was trying to get to her. Trying to show off his superior knowledge of the calendar of her life. But she was the one who had brought them to 1992, and the cove, and her brother’s wild cross stroke.
It was her fault that she was now walking the streets back to their house with her little brother after one of their regular swims, a walk that took them past the stucco pink palaces and modern concrete boxes that lined Sand Dollar Avenue, then downhill, and to the small corner of town where they lived, a block away from the elevated freeway that cut through the dry scrub-covered hills that separated the city limit from Interstate 5. The neighborhood they had been born in didn’t have a name, and in truth, it didn’t need one, because in Cathedral Beach, if your parents didn’t own their own yacht, or if they weren’t partners at a high-powered law firm or executives at a top-ranked military defense contractor, there were only four streets you could live on and theirs was one of them.
That afternoon, their mother had been waiting for them on the tiny front porch, her thick mane of curly blond hair threatening to come loose from its ponytail, her breath smelling of a furtive cigarette. That afternoon, their mother had explained to them that their father had decided he couldn’t do the things for them that dads are supposed to do, so he wouldn’t be living with them anymore. The whole time, Lilah had kept them on the porch, as if she thought the words she spoke might poison the house if she spoke them within its walls.
Fredericks said her name. After all she had already shared with them, Megan could sense how it might seem like a betrayal, lapsing into silent memory like this. Or worse, it made her look suspicious. But not until that very moment had she realized that the day their father walked out on them was the last time she and her brother ever swam the cove together.
But what would Fredericks and Loehmann care? Megan could see that by breaking the flow, by going silent this long, she had stoked some impatience in both of them. When she first took her seat, she had been fully prepared to tell her entire life story rather than answer any of the questions she knew were coming. But she had gone too far, and the pain of her father’s abandonment had taken away her nerve.
“How long?” she asked them.
Fredericks furrowed his brow. Loehmann just peered at her. They didn’t understand her question, and she didn’t blame them. Now that she realized what it was she had meant to ask, she couldn’t give voice to the words.
How long do I have to convince you that my brother is not capable of murdering sixty people?
Copyright Christopher Rice