Mon
Nov 28 2016 10:00am

Under the Knife: New Excerpt

Kelly Parsons

Under the Knife by Kelly ParsonsUnder the Knife by Kelly Parsons is a heart-pounding medical thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seats up to the very last page (Available February 7, 2017).

Read this exclusive excerpt from Under the Knife by Kelly Parsons, and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win an advanced copy of the novel!

Biotechnology tycoon Morgan Finney is highly intelligent but shy and emotionally fragile. When his beloved wife Jenny dies of complications during a surgery led by Dr. Rita Wu, Finney’s grief turns to rage. He vows to kill Rita just as he believes she killed his wife.

But first he will systematically destroy her life. He will take what is precious to her just as she did to him. Aided by a mysterious man, Finney uses advanced medical technology to ruin Rita’s reputation and bring her to the brink of madness. Alone, fighting for her sanity and life, Rita reaches out to her to former lover, Dr. Spencer Cameron, for help. Together they must fight to uncover Finney’s horrific intentions and race to stop him before it’s too late.

Prologue

The man stood, alone, hands in the pockets of his dark suit, gazing down into the earthen maw that had just swallowed his wife.

He was a tall man, stooped at the shoulders. Slim, with a pinched nose, prominent ears, and thin lips. He had fine hair the color of dry sand, which was parted to the side in a precise and solemn manner that made him appear much younger than his forty- odd years, like a boy made up for a school picture. His hair twitched in the warm breeze. The grass he was standing on was even and green; the headstones were silver and white.

He looked up and squinted into the brilliant sky.

Isn’t it supposed to be raining?

In movies, and on TV shows, it always seemed to be raining during burials. But today, sun, sky, clouds, and breeze had colluded to produce a day breathtaking even by Southern California standards.

I wish the weather had been this nice on my daughter’s wedding day he’d overheard one of the mourners murmur to her companion right before the start of the brief ceremony. One of Jenny’s friends. The CEO of a local biotechnology start-up. A very promising one. He was even considering acquiring a silent majority stake in it. She was an avid triathlete with brown, sinewy arms, mirrored sunglasses, and tiny breasts.

The triathlete was, he admitted, a shrewd businesswoman. He found it unlikely that her initial meeting with Jenny at a local gym, involving some sort of misunderstanding over a yoga mat, had occurred by chance. She had no doubt cultivated a relationship with Jenny to advance her company’s agenda with him. He’d voiced these suspicions to Jenny shortly after the friendship began.

Jenny, for whom glasses had never been half- empty, had laughed, and had told him to lighten up because he wasn’t that important, after all, and it wasn’t always about him.

She’d touched her forefinger to her lips, and stood on her tiptoes, and pressed her finger to his lips, the way she often did to signal that a particular topic was no longer open for discussion. That was that. Debate was closed, and he’d never again questioned, out loud, at least, the triathlete’s motives.

Her finger on his lips.

How he’d adored that simple gesture. The memory of it, its tactile echo— the gentle pressure on his skin, the slight ridges of Jenny’s fingertips catching faintly on his bottom lip as she pulled her finger away— was almost enough to make him smile.

Almost.

He personally couldn’t abide the triathlete. It wasn’t a female thing. He did business with women all the time. To a certain extent, he even preferred dealing with women rather than men. Or at least disliked it less. He appreciated the fact that most women weren’t fixated on some asinine alpha-male ritual du jour. Like kite surfing. Or rock climbing. Or golf. Even the fat ones played golf and boasted about it like it was some monumental athletic achievement. What a colossal waste of time.

So.

He didn’t like the triathlete because she was a woman. He simply didn’t like her. Which was of little consequence. There were lots of people he didn’t like. Besides, to make that kind of comment today, not ten feet from where Jenny lay...

Well.

He’d bitten his lip and ignored her.

For Jenny.

She’d been well liked. Most of her friends, and there had been a good many of them, had attended the service, greeting him with handshakes, and sympathetic shoulder pats, and a few stiff hugs.

How are you holding up? Such a tragedy. Taken before her time. She was so loved. She touched so many in the short time she had. She’ll be sorely missed.

He’d accepted their ministrations graciously enough, in his opinion. But he’d kept his distance during the service, standing alone, several feet away from the main group. He wanted nothing more to do with any of them. They were Jenny’s friends, not his. They’d attended the burial for her sake, certainly not out of any genuine concern for him. Their relationships with him were gossamer and transitive, established and maintained through Jenny. The same went for Jenny’s parents and brother, with whom he’d been cordial but who’d never known quite what to make of him. Now she was gone.

He himself didn’t have many friends. Not close ones. It was a truth that didn’t disturb him in the least. He viewed it with the objectivity of a scientist observing a squirming microbe under a laboratory microscope.

He withdrew his hands from his pockets and turned his attention from the sky back to Jenny’s grave.

Like a black hole, its darkness seemed to defy the shimmering day, sucking in the surrounding sunlight. Or perhaps repelling it. He stared hard into the opening, peering into the dimness. He could just make out his wife’s coffin, which gleamed the dull silver of a bullet.

He was seized with a wild urge to throw himself into the hole and grab the coffin; to pound on its cold, unyielding shell and scream his throat raw; to wrap his arms around it and hug it to his chest and wait for the indifferent earth to bury them both.

Because, really, what else mattered now?

Something moved in his peripheral vision.

A man, bald and short and thick, inched forward from a gleaming black Town Car parked on a nearby road. He cleared his throat.

“Mr. Finney?” His voice was reedy yet carried clearly. He and the tall man were the only living souls now remaining in this section of the cemetery.

The tall man lifted his chin and inclined his head to one side.

The thick man coughed. “Mr. Finney. You have that, ah, meeting. In forty-five minutes. At the Salk.” He tapped his wristwatch. “Just wanted to, uh, remind you.”

Finney did not turn around, or speak. He kept his head tilted toward the horizontal, as if he were in the aisle of a supermarket, casually holding up a cereal box to inspect its list of ingredients.

The man reeks of cigarettes, Finney thought. He was specifically instructed that I hate cigarettes.

Finney watched him out of the corner of his eye. The seconds ticked by. Perspiration gathered across the thick man’s bare skull and glinted in the sun. The man cleared his throat, as if to speak again, then seemed to think the better of it. He retreated to the car, wheezing.

Finney straightened his head back to the vertical, so that his chin was once again aligned with his neck. Although he’d never been predisposed to quick anger, or rash thoughts, Jenny’s death had kindled in him an emotional brittleness, worsened by his hopeless incapacity to process the cauldron of feelings that had simmered deep in his psyche since she’d been taken from him. Rage, raw as an open wound, bubbled over from inside him and threatened to consume him.

He drew a deep breath and held it.

Finney was not given to cliché. He, in fact, hated cliché. So he was surprised when the first coherent thought to pop into his mind as the thick man waddled away was I’m going to kill him: a sentiment that was, of course, a cliché.

He forced the air out of his lungs and seized that thought. Flipped it around in his mind. Mentally hefted it, turned it this way and that, considered its substance.

I’m going to kill him.

In an instant, his anger over the thick man’s stupendous idiocy had turned to curiosity.

I’m going to kill him?

People casually uttered that phrase all the time, without thought or conviction. As in, if he shows up late again for work, I’m going to kill him. It was a sitcom catchphrase or a throwaway line for cheap villains in summer movies. It meant nothing. No substance. All cliché.

But was it really, at this moment? For him?

Because Finney knew, with the absolute certainty of a man who had grown rich from being absolutely certain about things, that at this moment he really did want to kill the thick man.

This insight fascinated him. He was a law- abiding citizen, after all. Well, mostly law- abiding. Certainly not given to thoughts of premeditated homicide. From what dark corner of his mind had this urge sprung?

The immediacy of his conviction, its vividness and power, intrigued him. Finney didn’t believe in the existence of God. But if he did, he would at this moment invoke God to witness the fact that he wanted nothing more than to wrap his fingers around the man’s fat throat and squeeze, really squeeze, until his fingers disappeared into the folds of skin, as if they’d slipped beneath fleshy quicksand; and he felt the man’s windpipe crack, and heard the gratifying, high-pitched gasp of his final, foul breath.

It was an odd sensation. Not simply rage, anymore, or indignation over the man’s appalling disrespect, even as Jenny was about to disappear into the ground forever.

No.

It seemed to him something greater, far more consequential: as if the mere existence of this squat, nicotine-addled creature had somehow tipped the universe out of balance, and it was Finney’s mission—no, his burden—to right the order of things.

Finney’s emotions were something that he’d always experienced from a distance, from the outside in, like they were fish in an aquarium, and he was viewing them from the other side of thick-paned glass; so it was rather like he watched, instead of felt, the murderous urge slip away, disappearing beneath the murky surface of his subconscious. It did so slowly, as if reluctant to give up its grasp on him.

He sighed.

Order.

Or a lack thereof.

Maybe that’s what it was that was bothering him so much, that had been eating away at him, chewing on his insides, at all times of day and night over the last week. He hadn’t slept in days, and he was exhausted. Jenny’s death had set askew the natural order of things, and he sensed the unbalance in the universe around him. Newton’s Third Law at work: Her death was the action, and cosmic disequilibrium the reaction.

He would have to settle for firing the thick man, who had only recently started working for him, and ensuring he never again achieved any professional rank above that of graveyard-shift janitor. The man otherwise wasn’t worth the mental effort: not a single additional electrical impulse fired in a single neuron of Finney’s brain.

Besides, as much as he repulsed Finney, the thick man was not responsible for Jenny’s death.

That distinction belonged to another.

Because, really, what else mattered now?

The grief crashed over him without warning. It was as if his grief were a dense, poisonous liquid, and he was drowning in it, tumbling and spinning, helpless and sick. The familiar feeling, the hated feeling, rose in his throat.

He was going to cry.

He closed his eyes and balled his hands into fists, fighting the tears, as he had done repeatedly since her death. Even so, he felt them pooling in the corners of his eyes. Soon, here in the bright sunlight, in front of the thick man and the world, he would be sobbing like some pathetic child.

He could not, he would not, let that happen. He squeezed his eyelids and fists together harder.

Morgan.

He stirred.

It was Jenny, her voice as distinct and clear as if she were standing right next to him.

Jenny told him it was okay to cry.

He knew that it was the kind of thing that in life she would have encouraged him to do. Out of the mouths of lesser women, such advice would have sounded trite—the pedestrian psychobabble of daytime talk-show hosts and banal self-help books. But not from Jenny. Never from her.

It’s okay, she whispered.

He thought it over. Should he cry? Do what she’d empowered him to do when she was still alive? Acknowledge all of his emotions: the good and the bad? As she would surely want him to do now if she were standing here at his side?

But Jenny wasn’t here. Not really. And as much as he loved her—had loved her, he corrected himself—he was finished with these foolish sentiments. For good. He would no longer wallow in self- pity, as if he were some pig rooting through the foul muck of its pen.

No.

He had to be done with them. Because emotions were weak. Because acknowledging them meant he would never escape the searing pain of her loss. He needed to purge himself of this ridiculous mawkishness.

His fingernails had grown long and firm during the distraction and grief of the past several weeks, through her illness and its bleak finale, and they bit into the soft skin of his palms. It hurt.

It hurt a lot.

Good.

He made slight scraping motions with his fingers to force the nails deeper, drawing blood as he felt them break the surface of the skin, and concentrated on the physical pain to distract himself from the psychological.

Morgan.

She sounded more distant now.

In a way, it should be straightforward. Like closing a business deal, or solving an engineering problem. He just needed to approach things analytically: think it through with the precision, the elegance, of a mathematical equation. He would refocus his energies, redirect these irritating emotions into more meaningful and productive pursuits. But what kinds?

Scrape, scrape, scrape. His fingernails sunk into the compliant flesh. His clenched hands shook. He could feel his palms becoming slick with blood. He pictured it oozing through the gaps between his fingers and dripping onto the ground beneath him. Red dew drops on green grass.

The revelation came to him in a moment of sudden, perfect clarity.

Of course.

The answer was simple.

The grief receded, limping away like a wounded animal.

He relaxed his fists and opened his eyes. The urge to cry was gone. He examined with indifference the four crimson streaks running in series across each of his palms: the eight fingernail-inflicted stigmata trickling tiny red rivulets. He drew a handkerchief out of his pants pocket, wiped his hands clean of the blood, and dropped the soiled handkerchief on the ground, not knowing, or caring, who would pick it up.

He listened for Jenny.

Nothing.

Because, really, what else mattered now?

There was, actually, one thing.

A singular task that required his attention.

A task to which he would bend every fiber of his psyche until completed.

He removed a small notebook from his suit-coat pocket. It was old, with a worn, black- leather cover. Most of its pages were covered in writing. Some had been carefully scotch- taped to preserve their integrity. He flipped toward the back, to the first blank page, and drew a mechanical pencil from the same pocket. He clicked the pencil three times to extend the thin cylinder of lead beyond the tip of its sheath.

He began to write.

He bore down hard. Twice, the pencil lead snapped. Twice, he replaced the leading edge with three sharp reports— click, click, click—of the mechanical pencil. He wrote slowly and with exacting penmanship. When he was finished, he inspected the name he had written.

Dr. Rita Wu.

He stared at it for a moment, then drew an empty box next to her name, as if she were an entry on a to- do list. He closed the notebook and returned both it and the mechanical pencil to his coat pocket.

I’m going to kill her.

And he knew, with absolute certainty, that he would.

But first he would make her suffer.

The way Jenny suffered.

And he would rob her of something precious.

The way I’ve been robbed of something precious.

And balance would return to the universe.

Finney turned and walked back to the car, beside which the thick man waited.

He did not look back.


Copyright © 2016 Kelly Parsons.


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Under the Knife Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/stories/2016/11/under-the-knife-new-excerpt-kelly-parsons-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) November 28, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 9:59 a.m. ET December 5, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

 

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Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins, and he is on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. He lives with his family in Southern California.

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84 comments
3. Melody Kaufman
Oh my, I love a good thriller, and I would certainly love to find out what makes Morgan tick, where his rage takes him in the end. Do Rita and Spencer find the answers to the madness? Will there be twists and turns? Will I be left going whoa? I, like everyone else, will just have to wait and see.
Lisa Altland
4. ALT2222@msn.com
Sounds like an excellent novel. Looking forward to reading the rest of the story!!
5. Michele Lawrence
I LOVED his first novel, Doing Harm. I can't wait to get my hands on this one.
Michael Carter
6. rubydog
This looks really good.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
Kyle Johnson
7. kylecar94
Medical thrillers are a criminally underused genre! Looking good.
11. Cath Sparks
Great read, so far! Can't wait to read more.
12. Muscoe22
What an interesting and different premise!
Andrew Beck
13. queerbec
A doctor in distress....a villain out for revenge...and a mysterious partner who no doubt complicates things even more and has his/her own agenda...I miss the good old days when thrillers set in hospitals abounded. Glad they are back!!
Diane Mason
16. dmason48
Oh, man....I wanted to go on to the next page......hope to win a copy.
17. Violet245
Love the beginning "teaser" and I'm looking forward to reading the entire book!
pearl berger
18. beach
Thanks for this excerpt. This novel is captivating.
ellie lewis
19. italia
Enthralling novel which interests me.
Connie Williamson
24. angelbun
How I love an exciting thriller! The excerpt made me want to read the rest!
Joanne Mielczarski
25. jtmswim
Sounds like a great book - please include me in the sweepstakes.
Esther Whatley
28. ewhatley
I've never read this author and this sounds like a really good read. Would love to win it.
Richard Derus
29. expendablemudge
Unnerving...really unsettling...must be a terrific read!
pat murphy
30. pwhitby
Hope to win , love all books dealing with suspence !
31. hippiechick1955
I love love love medical thrillers. My first one was Coma by Robin Cook. I've worked in medicine for over 25 years so it's even more intriguing to me . Would like ve to win a copy.
Deborah Dumm
32. deb730
I love reading books like this. This sounds like a book that I would read in like one or two days if not quicker.
Mary Ann Woods
33. puttputt1198eve
Love medical mysteries!! This sounds like a good one.
Susan Robinette
34. susanrob
Sounds good so far-- would love to win the sweepstakes.
36. Annemarie Barbato
I would love to win this. Thank you for the chance!
susan beamon
39. susanbeamon
Interesting to know the villian at the beginning of the story. I have read some where we do see the villian, but only after action has begun. We rarely also know why the villian is acting until sometime in the final quarter of the book. I would love to add this book to my library.
vickie dailey
40. kidcurry
I haven't read a good medical thriller in years - this looks like one that shouldn't be missed
Debra Sluis
41. Grammadeb
Okay okay! Now I really want to read this. Put it on my list... I hope I win, for my Library doesn't have it yet. I checked.
Jean Dickinson
42. justjean
I am already "sitting on edge of my seat" to read Kelly Parsons "Under the Knife"!!
Diane Clavette
43. umhmmihearu
Have chills just thinking of the premise of the plot. I suppose having worked in the medical field may make it seem all the more real. Adding to my to read list.
44. Patti McClellan
The use of language is fresh and attractive. An enticing beginning. I would love to read the rest!
45. Andrea Young
Quite the interesting read this will be, can't wait!! I love a good medical thriller!!
Sandra Furlotte
46. skfurlotte
Medical thrillers are the best. I would love to read this book!
Peter W. Horton Jr.
49. mosaix
I will act on the rage in my heart! Yes!
L Peters
50. leepcat
can't wait to read it. thanks for the introduction.
51. Sallyw
An intriguing start to this book, wonder what his next move will be. Will be hoping to add it to my collection.
L
52. LStirling
Great imagery! I could see the world through Mr. Finney's eyes, and how his grief begins to twist his view. Excellent beginning that makes me want to read more.
53. Doris Dickens Kissack
I need to finish reading this story.
Lori Provenzano
54. Mountainesque
Very clear telling of clearly messed-up thinking! Looks like this story makes for a very engrossing read.
Russ Cross
55. Inertia-Lad
Sounds interesting. I believe I'd like to read this.
Jean Sagarese
56. devilwoman151
would love to read this and then share with my Mom
Jeffrey Malis
57. bravejam
Looking forward to reading more... Thanks for the excerpt and the entry opportunity!
Suzanne McMannis
58. simcmannis@aol.com
I really want to read this book. I really want to read this book. I really want to win this book. 3x is the charm.
Wilifred Alire
59. walire
Would love to read this book, could the author be the new Robin Cook?
Carole Knoles
60. carknol
O.K. don't keep me in suspense as I sit on the edge of the cliffhanger. What happens next!
Sally Schmidt
65. bigcootie
Wow, what an intense beginning. I do not think I will like Morgan Finney, but I know I won't be able to walk away without finding out just what he does.
68. Peg Nitskoff
This is so well written, I can actually picture in my mind, the descriptions
Alyson Widen
71. Sunnymay
The high stakes of surgery seem to be pushed to the limits with this medical thriller. I want to know was the patient killed for a reason, or was it an accident?
Marisa Young
73. Risa
Looks like a good thriller to read.
Linda Asmussen
74. cree888@gmail.com
I am very fond of the narrative style of "a man living in his head." It bespeaks how we all narrate our own lives.
Patrick Murphy
75. Ditch
Sounds like a great read. I would love ot win this one.
Thelma Melendez
77. tmmelendez
Morgan Finney sounds like just the right amount of crazy and intelligence to make this a must-read thriller. I'm super excited about this giveway.. I don't want to wait until February for this one!
Margot Core
78. AnnaZed
Ah yes, "I'm going to kill him" ... a thing one says, but sometimes (only sometimes) actually means!
Kristen Heyl
79. H0CkEyGrrL
Sounds like an aswesome book!!!! Putting this on my TBR list.
Laurent Latulippe
80. krag48
This sounds great. It's on my reading list.
Deb Philippon
82. DebP
Check, I would love to win. Wish me luck!
Portia Asher
83. pixie
I love a mystery, especially a good one.
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