I was within two blocks' drive of Paradise when the call came over the air. It was a 927, a general code meaning to investigate unknown trouble. The dispatch girl was offering it to Travis and Leonard, both of whom were checking IDs for warrants in the scrubby little park around the Adult Center on Jefferson; knowing that I could have them as backup in three minutes or less if the 'unknown trouble' turned out to be something bigger than anticipated, I cut in and took the call. Squad Sergeant responding, one minute or less.
Valley of Lights is a fusion of crime and horror, a dance between predator and prey in which the story twists, the stakes increase, and the tables are repeatedly turned.
It grew out of time that I spent in Phoenix, Arizona, researching the city and the desert and going on ride-alongs with the Phoenix PD. I was working on a novel that I never actually got to write. That novel idea was ambitious and sprawling. It was everything I ever wanted to say. It was art. It would have been as boring as hell. Instead, I wrote this.
It began as a simple idea for a short story and grew as I wrote it, in the way that no book had ever grown in my hands before. The story flew. All those days in the squad car with Lieutenant Dave Michels, the late shifts with Sergeants Tom Kosen and Jesse James, the flophouses and the trailer parks and the stakeouts in gaudy motels and the millionaires' houses in the Camelback Mountains - everything came together to feed the tale.
This is the book of which Dean Koontz wrote, "If thriller reading were a sin, Stephen Gallagher would be responsible for my ultimate damnation. His work is fast-paced, well-written, infused with a sense of dark wonder, and altogether fresh."
When I selected the title to present as my Sizzling Summer Read, fellow Top-Suspenser Ed Gorman kindly wrote, "I still think that Valley of Lights is one of the coolest - and most imitated - novels I've ever read."
Here's what Phoenix PD Sergeant Alex Volchak finds on his arrival at the Paradise Motel:
We came to the last of the units. Beyond this was some empty parking space and then a high cinderblock wall topped with wire. Not a place, on the whole, that I'd have cared to spend any time in. The desk clerk stood out front and gestured me towards the window as if to say take it, I don't want it, the responsibility's all yours. I was aware that, some distance behind me, one or two people had emerged and were watching to see if anything interesting was going to happen. I stepped up to the window and looked inside.You can find Valley of Lights for the Kindle right here.
The sash was open an inch at the top, and some faint stirring of the air had caused the drapes to part down the middle. The bug screen and the darkness inside made it difficult to see anything at all, but as my eyes adjusted I began to make out shapes. Something that had at first looked like a bean bag resolved itself into a human form, slumped, halfway out of a low chair as if he'd fainted while sitting. The details weren't clear, but also in my line of sight across the room was the end of the bed with somebody lying on it. I could see a pair of soiled tennis shoes for this one, not much more.
Just drunks sleeping off a party, I thought, remembering the heavy breathing that was being picked up by the dislodged phone, and I turned to the clerk and said, 'Who's the room registered to?'
'A little s...' he began, but then he caught himself. 'A Hispanic guy. I don't think he's even one of them.'
'Well... all I see is people sleeping. I don't know what's so unusual in that.'
'For four straight days? It could have been longer. He registered weeks ago, he closed the drapes on day one and he musta sneaked the others in when no-one was watching.'
'What about the maid?'
'We're residential, maid service comes extra. She just leaves the towels and sheets outside, doesn't go in. What do you think?'
I felt a definite stirring of interest. I said, 'I think you should get your pass key so we can go inside and find out what the problem is.'
'And that's legal? I mean, I'm all square with the owner if I do what you say?'
'Get the key, all right?'
We went inside; or rather, I went inside and the little monkey in the technicolor shirt hovered in the doorway behind me. My first expectation, which was of the smell of opium smoke, turned out to be wrong; what hit me instead was a rank odor like bad breath and drains. I crossed the room and opened the window as wide as it would go, and then I turned to look at the place in the harsh angles of daylight.
Nobody had moved. There were three of them. Slumped in the low chair opposite the window was a man in a grey business suit, an expensive-looking summer lightweight with the pants stained dark where his bladder had let go. He was the one who'd fallen against the phone and dislodged the receiver, as if he'd been propped awkwardly and hadn't stayed that way. The soiled tennis shoes on the bed belonged to a short, muscular-looking man in his late thirties, while over in the other chair by the key-operated TV sprawled a black teenager in a leather jacket.
All three of them were inert, like corpses; but I checked for a pulse on each one, and they were all alive and steady. The arms of the man on the bed, who was wearing a T-shirt, showed no fresh needle marks or even old scars.
I said to the clerk, 'Did you move anything when you came in before?'
His face was that of an animal that had just been stunned prior to slaughtering. Perhaps he thought I'd read his mind; he probably didn't realise that he'd already given himself away.
'No,' he finally managed. 'I didn't move a thing.'