Welcome to Star Island, where Miami’s wealthiest residents lead private lives behind the tall gates of their sprawling mansions. It’s a blissful escape from the hot and dirty city—or it was, until New Year’s Day 2015, when twelve of the most powerful people in the world were found murdered in the basement of a Star Island mansion.
The massacre shocked the nation and destroyed the life of investigator Lila Day. Her hunt for the Star Island killer consumed her. But the case went unsolved, resulting in her dismissal from the Miami PD.
Now, three years later, life hands Lila an unexpected second chance: reclusive billionaire Teddy Hawkins approaches Lila and asks her to solve the case. But how do you investigate a crime when all the leads have long ago gone cold? The answer, Teddy tells her, is to solve the case before it happens. He’s going to send Lila back in time.
With nothing left to lose, an incredulous Lila travels back to 2014, determined to find the Star Island killer once and for all. But as she goes undercover among the members of Miami’s high society, she finds herself caring for—and falling for—people who are destined to die that fateful night. Now she must either say good-bye or risk altering the future forever.
I can’t tell you how much fun I had reading this book, it was pure indulgence. Interesting characters, fun dialogue and a mass murder mystery to solve made this one impossible to put down. I liked that the murder could have been committed by any number of people. It made the clues fun to follow and I second guessed myself every time I thought I had it all figured out.
In the end, I was surprised by the identity of the Star Island killer and shocked at the true story behind the mysterious Janis Club – what a great twist! I was also thoroughly entertained along the way. I am excited that this is the beginning of a new series and am looking forward to seeing Lila Day and Teddy Hawkins team up again to solve more sensational crimes.
PROLOGUE Star Island, Florida, is not so much a location on the map as a fantasy come to life. The hundred or so people lucky enough to live on its man-made shores exist as if in a waking dream— a dream as seductive, dangerous, and illusory as a mirage.
Nestled upon the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay, a mere stone’s throw away from that wild and wicked boomtown, Miami Beach, Star Island has been home to movie stars, corporate titans, drug runners, and even a cult leader named Brother Louv, all of whom prized both its opulence and its isolation. But today, Star Island is synonymous with one thing, and one thing only.
All of the sins and scandals that took place on the island before the murders now seem like nothing more than child’s play.
By now, the details of the crime have been fervently hashed and rehashed so many times, on TV talk shows, around kitchen tables, and over cubicle walls, that everyone in the world knows the intricacies of the murders: On New Year’s Day 2015, twelve bodies were discovered on the Star Island estate of hotel magnate Chase Haverford, whose body was recovered among the dead. The victims were all, like Chase, high-profile fixtures in Miami’s social scene. Each had been murdered execution-style with a single bullet shot directly through the forehead.
The moment the news broke, the Star Island massacre took over the attentions of the world like a collective fever. From Tampa to Tokyo, from Kentucky to Kenya, the international media were breathless with talk about what many called the crime of the century.
For months, the hunt for the Star Island killer consumed the best and brightest investigators across the country and around the world. The CIA and the FBI each devoted a team to the case. A $10 million bounty offered by the father of one of the victims inspired countless home-brewed investigations. Yet even with the entire world on the hunt, the identity of the killer remained unknown.
And then, like any fever, the obsession with the Star Island massacre eventually broke. The press turned its attentions to another scandal. The cadre of investigators, tired of insurmountable dead ends and anxious to flee Miami before the summer humidity made the city unbearable, went off looking for new bloodstained bogeymen.
Long after everyone else had moved on, one local detective was left following leads, checking and rechecking evidence, and searching for a break in a case so cold even she knew there was little hope in catching the killer.
Only one detective was foolish enough to care, and it nearly cost her everything.
The instant Lila Day knocked on the door to room 3746, the yelling from inside stopped. On the other side of the door, she could hear the hustle of loud whispers and shuffling feet—the sound of bad behavior being frantically covered up.
“Security!” Lila bellowed as she pounded on the door.
She looked at her watch: 4:13 a.m. “Figures,” she muttered under her breath as she knocked again, landing three sharp strikes upon the door. “Open up, now!”
One thing all her years as a cop had taught her, and this crap hotel security job had merely confirmed, was that the hour from 4:00 to 5:00 a.m. was always when the ugliest shit went down. By four in the morning, most of the partyers, drunks, and fun-seeking idiots had passed out, and the early birds were still asleep in their beds. Anyone awake at this ungodly time was, without fail, up to no good.
Lila had been working night security at the Hotel Armadale for the past eight months, and in that time, not one notable thing had happened. Usually her job meant busting hotel guests smoking cigarettes in the stairwell, or searching under couch cushions for watches reported as stolen. Tonight, though, things were different. She felt it in her gut.
A sharp and sudden smash came from inside the room. Once again, Lila banged on the door.
“Hotel security. Open the door!” she shouted.
She reached down for her weapon, an automatic impulse after years on the force. But there was no gun there—nothing but a flashlight. Hotel security officers were strictly prohibited from carrying weapons. Bad for business, her manager said.
“Christ,” Lila muttered. She settled for her flashlight, which she could use as a stand-in bludgeon if it came to that.
She banged on the door a final time. Then she heard a muffled cry, followed by what sounded like a heavy object being dragged along the floor. Someone was in danger. In an instant, Lila had swiped her universal key across the touch-screen door lock, kicked the door open, and stepped cautiously inside the room.
It was one of the hotel’s most expensive suites, with jaw-dropping ocean views and sleek furniture. Even on an off-season night like tonight, mid-July in Miami, when the vast majority of tourists were long gone, this room went for $5,200. But tonight, the suite looked like a war zone. A TV had been torn off the wall and smashed against the dining room table. The white marble floor was covered in broken glass and empty booze bottles. A chartreuse raw silk curtain had been ripped off the window.
Slowly, Lila skirted along the perimeter of the room, keeping her back to the wall.
She heard a door slam on the west side of the suite and followed the sound into the bedroom, where she saw a long trail of blood staining the white carpet. The blood stopped at the closed bathroom door. From behind the door, she could hear rushing water and heavy footfalls.
“Hotel security. Open the goddamned door!” There was no response.
With all of her strength, Lila slammed the butt end of her flashlight repeatedly into the doorknob until the metal ripped away. She took a deep breath and then, using all 125 pounds of her body weight, shouldered her way into the bathroom.
Two men, stripped down to their underwear, stood frozen in a Jacuzzi tub at the far end of the cavernous marble bathroom. A woman’s bare legs, tapering down to a pair of leopard-print high heels, hung limply over the tub’s side. The crimson trail of blood continued across the floor toward the tub.
One man was quite short, no more than five four, with a bleached Mohawk and a muscular gym body. The other was a hulking presence, about a foot taller than his friend, paunchy and covered in thick tufts of body hair.
A strong smell of vomit hung in the air. The sink and tub faucets poured with steaming hot water.
“Hands up,” Lila shouted.
“We weren’t doing nothing,” the short man said in a thick accent that Lila couldn’t quite place. He raised his hands slowly and stepped out of the tub. He took several steps toward Lila, close enough that she could smell the soured alcohol escaping from every pore on his body.
“Don’t move,” Lila warned, standing her ground. The small man stopped within arm’s reach of her. From his red-rimmed eyes and raw nostrils she could tell he’d been buried in drugs for hours. The woman’s legs had not moved.
“This has nothing to do with you,” the large man said in a tone so calm and measured that it made Lila’s skin crawl. “You should turn around and go.”
“That’s not going to happen, sir,” Lila said. If that woman was still alive, the water flowing into the tub would drown her within seconds. “Now, can you tell me if the woman is still breathing?”
The large man stepped out of the tub. “Everything is under control,” he said.
“That’s not what it looks like from here.” She inched closer to the tub, her hand wrapped around the flashlight.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the short man said, grabbing her left arm.
“Hands off !” Lila snapped. She tried to pull her arm away, but the man only tightened his grip, burrowing his fingers deep into the muscle of her biceps.
Lila could see from his eyes and the tense twitch of his jaw that the man had no intention of letting her go. She glanced over at the taller man, who was now standing shoulder to shoulder with his buddy. Two against one. If she was going to get the upper hand, she would have to strike first.
In one swift movement, she spun around, using the momentum of her torqued body to crack the flashlight across the short man’s cheekbone. He let go of her as he fell diagonally, clutching his face. Then she darted to the side as the larger man lunged for her, bringing her foot down on his leg, right above the ankle. She heard the stomach-churning sound of his bone breaking.
Howling in pain, the man collapsed to the floor, and Lila ran to the tub. The woman was naked, her arms akimbo like those of a rag doll. Her long blond hair was wet and hung in clumps around her bloody face. Grabbing the woman’s lifeless arms, Lila attempted to hoist her from the tub, but her wet, unresponsive body slipped out of Lila’s grasp. The woman crumpled to the floor with a thud.
Lila called 911 for help. Her boss had been more than clear that calling the cops was absolutely the last resort. Even though this was a matter of life or death, she knew he’d still give her shit for it. “This is hotel security requesting police and EMT at Hotel Armadale, room thirty-seven forty-six. I have a medical emergency and two detained suspects.”
As she was talking, she pressed her fingers to the inside of the woman’s wrist and was relieved to find a pulse. She was still alive, but she wasn’t breathing.
Just then, the short man got to his feet, stooping down to help his larger friend.
Lila shot back up, ready for round two. But the men weren’t coming toward her. They were shuffling frantically away in the direction of the door.
“Freeze!” Lila shouted. They stopped, looked at her, looked at each other, and took off for the hallway as quickly as they could, the large man dragging his mangled leg behind him.
Lila hesitated for a split second. Should she chase after the men, or try to get this woman breathing again?
“Fuck it,” Lila said. She brushed the blond hair from the woman’s face, used a wet towel to wipe away the blood and vomit, and bent down to hold the woman’s nose closed as she blew two long breaths into her lungs.
By the time the EMTs arrived, the men were long gone, and the woman was barely responsive. But at least she was breathing again.
After the woman had been placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital, a couple of fresh-faced cops arrived on the scene. They were young enough that Lila didn’t know them from her years in the Miami Police Department; and if they knew of her, they didn’t say. For that, she was thankful.
Her cell phone rang while she was in the middle of giving the police a description of the men who’d fled the crime scene. It was her boss. “Get to my office, now.”
“I’m talking to the police,” she replied. “I’ll be down when I’m done.”
“Which is right this minute. Get your ass here, now.”
She took the elevator down to the basement, where her supervisor had his small office just off the kitchen. When she opened his door, he was on the phone.
“I got it. It’s taken care of. Not a problem,” he said, waving Lila in. She knew from the throbbing vein in the middle of his beet-red forehead that she was in deep shit.
“Yes, thank you, sir,” he said into the phone, glaring at Lila.
“Sorry that you had to be disturbed in the middle of the night over this.”
Danny Ramirez, her superior, was an unshaven smudge of a man with a phlegmy cough and an allergic reaction to hard work.
Like Lila, and most of the other shlubs who worked hotel security, he was an ex-cop. The difference was that he was retired with full pension, while Lila had been asked to leave the force. It was a distinction he never let her forget. He was a kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy. In other words, a complete prick.
Lila sat stiffly on a metal stool wedged between a wet vac and a fifty-gallon drum of olive oil, waiting for him to get off the phone.
“That’s right, sir. I’ll handle it. Yes, my pleasure.” Danny hung up the phone, then let out an enormous sigh, rubbing the heel of his meaty hand across his forehead. “Do you have any idea who that was?” he asked Lila.
She shook her head no.
“Thanks to you, I just had the distinct pleasure of getting my ass chewed out by none other than Jonathan fucking Golding, the owner of this very fine establishment. Do you know how many times he’s called me? Just guess.”
Lila shrugged. Saying anything right now would only be digging herself deeper into whatever hole she was currently in.
“In my six years of working here, I’ve only spoken to that man once before tonight. And that was on the day he hired me.”
“You’re acting like I did something wrong.”
“Do yourself a favor and shut your mouth!” he shouted. “I’ll take bullshit from Golding ’cause that’s my job. But I won’t take it from you. Do you have any idea whose fucking ankle you broke tonight?”
“I don’t know. A rapist’s? A murderer’s? I walked in on him and his little friend trying to kill a woman. If I wasn’t there, you’d have a homicide on your hands right now. Is that what you want?”
“She’s a whore who overdosed. That’s the end of the story.
The cops that are with her down at the hospital right now told me she’s not pressing charges. She’s staying very tight-lipped about the whole thing. Poor girl is just trying to keep out of jail herself. On the other hand, those guys you had so much fun bashing around already have their lawyers calling Jonathan fucking Golding demanding that you be brought up on aggravated assault charges.”
“Yes, you. And now I’ve got Golding up my ass saying how bad this looks for the hotel. He’s trying to keep the whole thing contained. If this is leaked to the press, it’ll be a total shit show.” Lila sat there stunned. The worst she had expected was to be called out for letting the guys get away. But this wasn’t the first time she’d been read the riot act for simply doing her job. “I was warned not to hire you. But did I listen?” Danny shook his head. “You were a good cop. And you needed work, so I did what I thought was right and gave you the job.”
“And I’m grateful for that. Really I am.” Lila gave Danny a forced smile. “What I did tonight is part of the job you hired me to do.”
“For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve had a rotten habit of fucking with the wrong people,” he said.
“You mean rich people.”
“That’s one way to put it. Most people just call them the boss. And most people learn early to play nice with the guys who call the shots. It seems to me those are the folks you like to go after.”
Danny stood up, walked around his desk, and stopped in front of Lila. “I’ll need your hotel ID. Leave your uniform and flashlight in your locker. You’ll get a final check sent to you at the end of the month. As of right now, you are no longer an employee of Hotel Armadale.”
Lila sat silent for a moment, studying her boss. Under the fluorescent lights, his face looked slack-jawed and exhausted.
There was a mustard stain on his tie. He had always been sloppy, as a man and as a cop. All he ever really cared about was covering his own ass. The priorities of a coward.
Good riddance, she thought, standing up. She slapped her ID and flashlight on the table.
“You’ll land on your feet, kid.” Danny’s voice was a little strained from this attempt at positivity, but also relieved. She knew he’d been worried she would make a scene. But she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of seeing her protest. It was pointless. Instead, she just nodded as she left his office and closed the door behind her.
The moment Lila walked out of the Armadale for the last time, a wall of humidity hit her, the sun mercilessly bright overhead. It was only 7:30 a.m., and already the temperature was unbearable. Two thousand eighteen was proving to be the hottest year on record—and the worst year of Lila’s life.
Thoughts of her late mother’s hospital bills, her overdue car payments, her rent, and her frozen credit cards descended on Lila like the oppressive weather, making it almost impossible to breathe. She was broke, she was in debt, and now she was unemployed.
She was crossing the parking lot toward her car, her mind listing one worry after another, when a rapid clicking noise interrupted her thoughts. She looked up and saw an old man on the other side of the street, sitting in a midnight-blue Bentley and pointing a long-lensed camera in her direction. She swiveled around to see what he was photographing, but there was nothing behind her except the empty parking lot. Was he taking pictures of her?
Just as she turned back to the man, the car pulled away and disappeared around the corner. Lila stood glued to the same spot, staring blankly at where the car had been. Its exhaust fumes still hung suspended in the morning air. There was something about that old man, about this specific moment in time, that seemed intensely familiar to Lila, almost as if this had happened before.
She shook herself out of her momentary daze and climbed into her already sunbaked car, which felt something like climbing into a furnace. Déjà vu, she thought with a shrug.
The sun had only been up for an hour, and Lila’s day, as far as she was concerned, was already done
Liv Spector was raised on Cape Cod and now lives in Canada. She has worked as an oyster shucker, dancer, farmhand, journalist, and teacher. A graduate of McGill University in Montreal, she received her MFA from Brooklyn College.