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The Nightmare Thief: A Novel (Jo Beckett Series) Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged

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Editorial Reviews Review

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett returns in a fourth taut, groundbreaking thriller from Edgar Award winner Meg Gardiner.

Autumn Reiniger expects something special for her twenty-first birthday. Daddy's already bought her the sports car, the apartment, and admission to the private college where she parties away her weekends. Now she wants excitement, and she's going to get it.

Her father signs up Autumn and five friends for an "ultimate urban reality" game: a simulated drug deal, manhunt, and jailbreak. It's a high-priced version of cops and robbers, played with fake guns and fast cars on the streets of San Francisco. Edge Adventures alerts the SFPD ahead of time that a "crime situation" is underway, so the authorities can ignore the squealing tires and desperate cries for help.

Which is convenient for the gang of real kidnappers zeroing in on their target and a mammoth payday. Because what Daddy doesn't know is that someone has spotted his hedge fund's bulging profits, and the path to those riches runs right through Daddy's Little Girl.

Working on a case nearby is forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett and her partner Gabe Quintana. When the pair encounters a suspicious group of men carting six sullen college kids to the woods for a supposed wilderness adventure, alarm bells ring. Jo takes a closer look, and winds up with an invite to Autumn Reiniger's twenty-first birthday party-a party they may never leave.

Author One-on-One: Meg Gardiner and Jeffery Deaver

In this exclusive, authors Meg Gardiner is interviewed by Jeffery Deaver (Carte Blanche) about The Nightmare Thief.

Meg Gardiner

Jeffery Deaver: This is the fourth Jo Beckett novel. Fans are always curious about whether authors age their characters or not. What's your approach to this?

Meg Gardiner: Time in my novels is flexible. Jo's life does pass, because over the course of the books she changes and grows, and that takes time. But she doesn't age according to the calendar on my wall. From The Dirty Secrets Club to The Nightmare Thief, about a year has gone by in her world. At heart, these books are about a young professional in San Francisco in the early years of the 21st century. And that won't change.

Deaver:. Jo's specialty, of course, is psychology, which she practices in The Nightmare Thief both on the living and on at least one fellow who ended up in an abandoned mine--not a pleasant excursion, I should add. Your insight into the mind is quite riveting; do you have a background in the subject?

Gardiner: What's truly riveting is the mind itself. That's why I love writing these books. But my background, like yours, is in law. Any deep insights into psychology come thanks to my sister, who's a psychiatrist. She's my go-to expert. And she's put me in contact with forensic psychiatrists--the physicians who, like Jo, perform psychological autopsies to determine whether a victim's death is suicide, accident, or murder.

Deaver: There is certainly violence in the book, but it never crosses the line into gratuitous gore and sensationalism. Indeed, there's an emotional tug in the novel when a life is lost or someone we care about is injured--you don't rely on bloody imagery or the stupid quips we see in bad movie thrillers. How do you achieve that?

Gardiner: Violence isn't glamorous. It's ugly and painful and leaves scars. I try always to remember that. While my novels depict the physical and emotional consequences of violent crime, over the years I've become more sparing when describing the violence itself. And you know why? I heard you talk about the "Theater of the Mind." You pointed out that what readers can imagine is far worse than what a writer can portray. (Talk about a riveting insight.) It's true: Leave most of the details in the shadows, and readers' imaginations will fill the darkness with monsters from their own worst nightmares.

Jeffery Deaver

Deaver: The title--and the core plot--reflect long-held phobias. Fess up: did this come from something in your childhood that scared the bejesus out of you? Or was it product of your imagination. (Oh, and thanks by the way for the snakes, one of my own fears!)

Gardiner: So you won't be visiting the Reptile House with us? What a shame. I didn't suffer any terrifying childhood traumas, unless you count getting scared by a park ranger who was dressed as a huge pink bunny--but let's not speak of that Easter egg hunt. The story forces the characters to face their phobias, under life-and-death conditions. Everybody has some fear that lurks down in the basement. Jo is severely claustrophobic. I hate heights. Let's change the subject.

Deaver: Jo and Gabe find themselves in the California wilderness, struggling to survive. The brilliant description of not only the geography but how one copes with the terrain suggests that you've had first-hand experience with the challenges our protagonists faced (minus the bad guys, I hope). Is that true?

Gardiner: Luckily, no. I grew up in California and love the Sierras. And I know how rugged the California wilderness can be. It's frighteningly easy to get in trouble in the mountains. Survival situations can arise only a few bends away from lattes and wifi. The wilderness survival tactics in the book draw on the U.S. Air Force Survival Manual and the work of the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard. Gabe's a PJ--a pararescueman--with the Wing. The real life PJs put themselves on the line when disaster strikes. Rescuing passengers from a bus wreck in the Sierras is actually one of their training scenarios. I can't say enough about how selfless and dedicated these guys are. Be glad they're around. Hope you never need them.

Deaver: The book is very tightly plotted, taking place in only a few days, with several subplots moving forward quickly and simultaneously--Jo and Gabe, the police, several possible victims, a clutch of baddies. How did you so successfully accomplish the juggling?

Gardiner: Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Tighten the screws, ratchet up the tension. Thrillers should thrill--they should give readers a real emotional experience. So the characters must need to get to safety now. Figure out how to escape yesterday. Move faster, because something's coming, and it's gaining on them.

Deaver: The main plot device is a live-action role-playing game. Is it true that these really exist? Could you describe a bit about how they work? And, by the way, remind me never to sign up for one.

Gardiner: These games do exist. One French company offers designer kidnappings, plus helicopter chases, a night in a morgue, and even the chance to be buried alive. These games are "designer thrills" for adrenaline junkies--customized scenarios that force players to face their worst fears. And they're perfectly legal, though the police want to be informed ahead of time so they can ignore emergency calls and screams for help. That's what startled me. It sounded like an open invitation for real crooks to hijack an adventure and kidnap people playing the game. And that became the starting point for the novel.

Deaver: Like Shakespeare, even in the drama of the story, there are bits of humor. For instance, I loved Pepito the dog, described as "the attack mop." Is humor something that comes naturally to you?

Gardiner: Maybe I'm twisted. Okay, strike the "maybe." But I can't write more than 50 pages without inserting humor into a book. Besides, thrillers shouldn't be wall-to-wall action. Reading a novel that's nothing but car chases and explosions feels like listening to feedback from an amplifier. Good novels contain changes of pace, and let readers catch their breath before being plunged into more life-or-death suspense. Humor can invigorate a story. In a thriller, it can be a refreshing surprise. And I'm glad you liked Pepito. Pop his little sheriff's hat on his head, and maybe he can take on those snakes for you.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'One of the most exciting openings of a crime book I have come across ... a tense, thrill-a-second race against time as everyone present is forced to confront real life-changing danger.' DAILY MAIL Praise for THE MEMORY COLLECTOR: 'The next suspense superstar.' STEPHEN KING 'Meg Gardiner is an astonishing writer.' TESS GERRITSEN 'Riveting...a book you just can't put down...The Memory Collector is a first-class thriller with non-stop action.' CHICAGO SUN-TIMES Praise for THE LIAR'S LULLABY: 'Breathless suspense, slick plotting and a cast of compelling characters make this a solid addition to Edgar-winner Gardiner's dossier of superlative thrillers with appeal both for pure suspense fans and those who favour well-delineated characters.' BOOKLIST --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Jo Beckett Series (Book 4)
  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio; Unabridged edition (July 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441820078
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441820075
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.4 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,612,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Meg Gardiner is the author of twelve thrillers, including the Evan Delaney series and the Jo Beckett novels. She was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. She's also a three time Jeopardy! champion. She lives in Austin, Texas.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original.

The Dirty Secrets Club won the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of 2008.

The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. The Shadow Tracer was named one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2013.

Her latest novel is Phantom Instinct.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Selma Jean on July 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm a great fan of Meg Gardiner's. Have been since she published her first book, "China Lake," which featured her intrepid character Evan Delaney squaring up against The Remnant, a fanatical church whose members use violence to create their heaven on earth. Following "China Lake," Gardiner gave us "Mission Canyon," "Jericho Point,""Crosscut," and, finally, "Kill Chain." With each novel, Gardiner honed her talent, shone brighter, and wove a tighter story.

Gardiner put Evan aside after five books, turning her sights to Jo Beckett, a forensic psychologist living in San Francisco. The first Jo book, "The Dirty Secrets Club," gained Gardiner a new circle of thriller fans, and each book in the series has upped the ante on action and thrills. The Jo books now number four, with "The Memory Collector," "The Liar's Lullaby," and now "The Nightmare Thief." In this latest book, Gardiner pulls out all the stops, gripping her readers from the get-go and not letting the action slow even for a moment as she follows Jo and her partner Gabe as they struggle to survive in the wilderness, while being hunted by trained killers.

It's an action thriller, but Gardiner takes the time to develop her characters, from full portraits to single-stroke images that are seared into the reader's mind. She knows her characters, both the main ones and the toss-asides, and, as a result, every action they take is believable, and inevitable. That's just excellent storytelling.

The story is filled with twists and turns, as are most of her novels, but every single thread is tied up by the end, with nothing left hanging loose or unexplained. The storyline makes sense in the end, and the reader understands the connections and seeming-tangents. Again, excellent storytelling.

Do yourself a favor.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard W. Klinzman on August 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Summertime Thriller Season is upon us. This summer, Meg Gardiner has given her fans a double treat with a new Jo Beckett thriller, The Nightmare Thief, but has upped the satisfaction factor by adding her other series character, Evan Delaney, to the mix. Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist who does psychological autopsies to determine the state of mind of the recently deceased.

Autumn Reiniger is turning twenty-one and her rich, successful father has hired Edge Adventures to give her a thrilling urban reality game weekend. Peter Reiniger uses Edge Adventures and their survival scenarios to strengthen his employees team building skills and decision making abilities. Autumn has a couple of phobias and a lack of maturity associated with spoiled children her father would like her to lose.

Into this mix, a ruthless gang hijacks Autumn's birthday adventure. Jo and Evan come together while investigating the mysterious death of lawyer Phelps Wylie whose body was discovered in an abandoned mine hundreds of miles away with no apparent cause of death. While Evan chases leads on the streets of San Francisco, Jo heads to the mountains to attempt to determine whether Phelps Wylie was suicidal or a victim of murder. She and para rescue boyfriend, Gabe Quintana, come upon the kidnapped young adults and must fight for their lives in a story that never stops. It is as white knuckle, breathless reading akin to watching a season of 24. I have the fingernail indentations on my book to prove it.

Ms. Gardiner's personal writing tips include this philosophy. "If your characters have time for more than two lines of witty banter, the pace is too slow. Fire a missile at them." This is not entirely tongue in cheek as her characters are running from these metaphorical missiles in non stop action.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By FictionFan TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jo Bennett, the heroine, is investigating a suspicious death in the wild, mountainous terrain of the Sierras, when she and her boyfriend Gabe stumble across a group of teenagers being abducted and held to ransom by a group of assorted villains. Autumn Reiniger, spoilt little rich kid, thinks she and her friends are on an adventure weekend arranged by her not terribly nice father, but in fact the baddies have taken advantage of this scenario to carry out their nefarious scheme.

Trapped in the wilderness, surrounded by nasty people with great big guns, thank goodness Jo was there to help. Armed only with a knife and a pointed stick, Jo and her hunky but in many ways rather useless survival expert boyfriend set out to bring everyone home safe. Fortunately Jo possesses what must surely be superhuman strength and stamina and the young people are inspired by her to really quite amazing feats of their own, considering their ever-increasing list of nasty, life-threatening injuries.

A truly extraordinary series of coincidences ensues and some technological marvels, such as Jo's ability to receive incoming texts on her phone while being unable to get a signal to send for help.

I understand this is not the first of Jo Bennett's adventures. I can only say `What a Woman!'. With women like Jo around I know I feel safer.

A routine, far-fetched, wilderness adventure. Quite readable, but you'll have to be willing to suspend your disbelief a lot to enjoy this.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By purlgardener on October 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
After reading the other reviews, it was hard to believe that we had read the same book. Other reviewers praised the fast paced plot and well defined characters. It felt more like a Nancy Drew book to me and a sub par one at that.

The plot was ridiculous and circuitous; the characters weren't clearly drawn and I didn't really care if they lived or died. The book didn't just bore me, I was angry that I took it with me on a trip and still had nothing to read. It was a waste of time and money.
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