“Past Perfect made me laugh, but it also kept me jumping out of bed every time a floorboard creaked in my old house.”
Sara Paretsky, author of Fire Sale
In Past Perfect, Susan Isaacs gives us one of her most glorious characters ever: bright, buoyant, and borderline luscious Katie Schottland. Katie seems to have the ideal life: a great husband, a precocious and winning ten-year-old son, and a dream job-writer for the long-running TV series Spy Guys. But all is not as splendid as it should be because writing about the espionage business isn’t nearly as satisfying as working in it.
Fifteen years earlier, Katie was in the CIA. She loved her job (to say nothing of her boss, the mysterious Benton Mattingly). Yet just as she was sensing she was in line for a promotion, she was fired-escorted off the premises by two extremely hulking security types. Why? No one would tell her: when you’re expelled from the Agency, warm friends immediately become icy ex-colleagues who won’t risk their security clearances by talking to you.
Until that day, Katie was where she wanted to be. Coming from a family of Manhattan superachievers, she too had a job she not only adored but a job that made her, in the family tradition, a Someone. Fifteen years later, Katie is still stuck on her firing. Was she set up? Or did she make some terrible mistake that cost lives? She believes that if she could discover why they threw her out, she might be at peace.
On the day she’s rushing to get her son off to summer camp, Katie gets a surprise call from former Agency colleague Lisa Golding. “A matter of national importance,” says Lisa, who promises to reveal the truth about the firing-if Katie will help her. Lisa was never very good at truth-telling, though she swears she’s changed her ways. Katie agrees to speak with her, but before she can, Lisa vanishes.
Maturity and common sense should keep Katie in the bright, normal world of her present life, away from the dark intrigues of the past. But she needs to know. As she takes just a few steps to find out, one ex-spy who might have the answers dies under suspicious circumstances. Another former agent is murdered. Could it be there’s a list? If so, is Katie now on it? And who will be the next to go?
>> Susan’s inspiration for Past Perfect.
Oh God, I wish I had a weapon! Naturally, I don’t. Of course, if life in any way resembled Spy Guys, the espionage TV show I write, I’d pull off the top of my pen and with one stab inflict a fatal wound, and save my life. Except no pen: just two pieces of chewed Dentyne Ice spearmint wrapped in a receipt for sunscreen and panty liners.
When I began making notes on what I naively thought of as Katie’s Big Adventure, I hadn’t a clue that my life would be on the line. How could I? This would be my story, and every ending I’d ever written had been upbeat. But in the past few weeks I’ve learned that “happily ever after” is simply proof of my lifelong preference for fantasy over reality.
Unfortunately, fantasy will not get me out of this mess. So what am I supposed to do now? First, calm down. Hard to do when I’m crouched behind a toolshed, up to my waist in insanely lush flora that’s no doubt crawling with fauna.
It’s so dark. No moon, no stars: the earth could be the only celestial object in a black universe. And it’s hot. Even at this late hour, there is no relief from the heat. My shirt is sweat-drenched and so sucked against my skin it’s a yellow-and-white-striped epidermis.
I cannot let myself dwell on the fact that my danger is doubled because I’m so out of my element. Me, Total Manhattan Sushi Woman, cowering behind a tool shed in fried pork rinds country with unspeakable creatures from the insect and worm worlds who think my sandaled feet are some new interstate.
Adam, my husband, would probably be able to identify the nocturnal bird in a nearby tree that refuses to shut up, the one whose hoarse squawks sounded like “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Adam is a vet. A veterinary pathologist at the Bronx Zoo, to be precise. Were something that feels like a rat’s tail to brush his toes in the dark, he wouldn’t want to shriek in horror and vomit simultaneously, like I do. He’d just say, Hmm, a Norway rat. Adam is close to fearless.
I, of course, am not. If I concentrate on what’s happening here in the blackness, the slide of something furry against my anklebone, the sponginess of the ground beneath the thin, soaked soles of my sandals, a sudden Bump! against my cheek, then something, whatever it is (bat? blood-swollen insect?) ricocheting off, I will literally go mad, and trust me, I know the difference between literally and figuratively. I’ll howl like a lunatic until brought back to sanity by the terrible realization that I’ve given away my precise location to that nut job who is out there, maybe only a hundred feet away, stalking me.
Feh! Something just landed on the inner part of my thigh. As I brush it off, its gross little feet try to grip me.
Don’t scream! Calm down. Taoist breathing method: Listen to your breathing. Easy. Don’t force it. Just concentrate. Listen. All right: three reasonably calm breaths. What am I going to do? How am I going to survive? Will I ever see Adam again? And our son, Nicky?
What used to be my real life back in New York seems as far away as some Blondie concert I went to when I was fifteen. All right, what the hell was I originally thinking I had to do here behind the tool shed? Oh, try to remember what I wrote in the journal I began a day or two after that first disturbing phone call. Maybe something I’d unthinkingly jotted down could help me now, or could at least allow me to delude myself that this episode will be yet another of my…and they lived happily ever after…
Copyright © 2007 by Susan Isaacs