The PJ Gray Series
Gray Matter (PJ Gray #1)
Book Clubs: The Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Alternate Selection of The Mystery Guild
A celebrated pianist has been found dead, decapitated by a sharp instrument, possibly a meat cleaver. His head is missing. The skin on his back has been carved into the bas-relief of a mongrel dog. It is a savage, seemingly senseless slaying. But it is only the first. Penelope Jennifer Gray, known as PJ, is a newly divorced psychologist making a fresh start with her twelve-year-old son in St. Louis. A pioneer in the competitive field of computer simulation studies, she has been hired to set up a new division within the St. Louis Police Department. Through cutting-edge techniques of virtual reality, the Computerized Homicide Investigations Project, or CHIP, recreates real-life crimes by placing the user in the mind of the perpetrator.
PJ is teamed up with Leo Schultz, a veteran cop fast approaching burnout, to investigate the case that has St. Louis is a death-grip: the city is being terrorized by what could be the most unstoppable serial killer in history.
He's a face in the crowd. A figure in the shadows. The guy standing behind you at the street corner, waiting for the light to change. With each fresh killing, Pauley Mac adds another victim to his "guest" list. They are the voices in his head. The coveted talents he hopes to one day possess. The furies he can no longer control.
For PJ Gray, at the mercy of a cunning monster with none to give, it will take all of her instincts as a psychologist and as a woman to beat Pauley Mac at his own game. To survive, she must enter the mind of a killer.
"Kennett is a writer of rare skill, and GRAY MATTER is a deftly plotted novel bristling with suspense. Its characters are real and contemporary, and its premise is gripping and unique. Not since RED DRAGON has a more menacing serial killer roamed metropolitan St. Louis. A rip-roaring good read. Let's see more of PJ Gray!" - John Lutz, author of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE
"Fans of Patricia Cornwell's work will be hooked on his heart-stopping and harrowing thriller. The finely drawn characters in GRAY MATTER are both complex and terrifyingly convincing." - Romantic Times
Fire Cracker (PJ Gray #2)
Book Clubs: The Literary Guild, Doubleday, The Mystery Guild
The room pulses with electronic life. His mind on overload, he activates the program that creates
commands and alters lab results and vital patient information - then removes all traces of itself.
In a busy St. Louis hospital, a wealthy, elderly patient gasps her last breath, the victim of a complex series of medical orders carried out through the hospital's computer system. A few days later, a diabetic man is administered an overdose of insulin - again on computerized command. While the hospital insists it is blameless in both cases, veteran homicide cop Leo Schultz isn't so sure. And PJ Gray, the director of the department's Computerized Homicide Investigation Project, suspects that someone is tampering with the hospital's system - with the deadliest of results.
Still recovering from a bitter divorce, the single mother of a twelve-year-old boy, PJ knows what it's like to try to win a losing battle. Her first case nearly cost her everything: she still has the jagged scar from a madman's carving knife to remind her how fragile - and precious - life is. Now the psychologist and expert in the ground-breaking field of forensic computer simulation faces her most impossible investigation yet. It will shatter the illusion of a safe haven she thought she'd finally created for her son and for herself.
This time her quarry is far more elusive. This time, PJ Gray and Leo Schultz are hunting a man who doesn't exist.
His handle is Cracker. A cunning computer hacker who engineered his own disappearance and death, he has hatched a monstrous plan for retribution that PJ is just beginning to comprehend. As she uses her skills to enter his brilliant, tortured mind, Cracker taunts her with a final challenge: anticipate his next move, or many more will die.
"FIRE CRACKER is the masterful follow-up to the stunning debut GRAY MATTER. Ms. Kennett has created a winner in psychologist PJ Gray. Gray is intelligent, tough, strong and independent, and yet Kennett has wisely given her the normal working single mother human frailties. The story line is superb, with a criminal mastermind that comes off with some sympathy. Suspenseful, exciting, and a fascinating read. A worthy successor to the outstanding GRAY MATTER. Rating 10 out of 10." - The Shadow Box
Chameleon (PJ Gray #3)
As a twelve-year-old, Columbus Wade spends a lot of time in his bedroom on the second floor of his
parents' home. Since the family moved to St. Louis several years ago, Roberta and Edgar Wade have
rarely seen their son. Columbus may live physically on Magnolia Boulevard in south St. Louis, but
he spends his time in virtual reality worlds of his own design. When he's immersed, he doesn't have
to deal with his parents. He doesn't have to deal with emotions, which is good because he doesn't
feel many himself. When necessary, he mimics the emotional responses of people around him, as a
chameleon changes color to blend in with its surroundings.
The VR worlds Columbus creates are immensely satisfying to him because he can do whatever he wants to do with no consequences, even kill the simulated people who inhabit the worlds. Then he crosses the line between VR and reality when he murders a teacher who interferes with his private activities. The killing is clumsy and bloody, like a lion cub taking its first prey. But Columbus can do better now.
It isn't easy for a twelve-year-old to plan and perform horrific murders, sneaking out on his parents' Bridge Night. The one thing in his favor is that his victims don't find him threatening until it's too late. Even still, the logistics are complicated. After all, he has to have exact change for the bus.
The horror strikes close to home for PJ Gray. Her son Thomas attends the school where the teachers have every reason to be frightened of bumps in the night. Now Thomas is spending a lot of time with a new friend, one whose influence seems too strong for PJ's comfort. Is she serving milk and cookies to a killer at her kitchen table?
"Columbus Wade is something special: a chillingly realistic creation - not a typical psychopath who happens to be a young boy but a precocious, fun-loving, immature young boy who happens to be a psychopath. A very unsettling and very compelling novel." - Booklist
Act of Betrayal (PJ Gray #4)
Heads up: This book was released in print form under a pen name of Morgan Avery,
but the eBook has my name, Shirley Kennett, on it. Mysterious, isn't it?
His nickname is Cut, and he's trapped his prey in the hot apartment. Tied up and helpless, Detective Leo Schultz's son Rick can only watch in horror as Cut sets in motion a horrible death for him. Schultz is devastated, but more is in store for him.
A little girl is coldly run down in the street. The car belongs to Detective Schultz, and witnesses place him at the scene.
PJ Gray is shocked when her partner's life falls apart literally on her doorstep. Whom to believe? Whom to trust? The answers lie buried in Schultz's past, and there are a few things there that were better off hidden. The more she digs into Schultz's checkered career with the St. Louis Police Department, the more she realizes that she doesn't really know her partner after all.
More innocent lives are in jeopardy as PJ scrambles to keep up with Cut's deadly agenda. She needs answers, but Schultz deserts her just when the case heats up to white-hot and everything around her seems cut loose from its familiar anchors. She knows it's time to act - but is it Schultz who needs saving, or herself?
The body count goes up as prominent members of the law enforcement and judicial communities are taken out. PJ has just hours to prevent Schultz from suffering the same horrible fate as his son. She will have to draw upon everything she's learned about Schultz's past, and about the devious mind behind the killings ... and she fears she doesn't know enough.
"ACT OF BETRAYAL is a chilling police procedural that centers on revenge. The story line is taut as the action begins on page one and never eases up for a moment. Clever twists with a fresh, unique mystery." - Painted Rock Reviews
Time of Death (PJ Gray #5)
The mutilated body on the St. Louis riverfront is just the beginning. Forensic virtual reality
expert PJ Gray has her hands full when the Metro Mangler claims more victims. As the case heats up,
so do her feelings for her partner, Detective Leo Schultz. They're like bolts of lightning that
sizzle and hiss the closer they get, swept up in a relationship that is more force of nature
than emotional state. As a wealthy family's secrets unravel and a thirty-year-old murder comes
to light, PJ's in danger of crossing the line from investigator to victim.
"The hook in Kennett's PJ Gray series, starring a St. Louis psychological profiler, is the use of virtual reality software to recreate crime scenes. The high-tech wizardry is fine, but what really makes this series go is the fiery relationship and strong personalities of the costars, gutsy protagonist PJ (Penelope) and her Andy Sipowicz-like boyfriend, Leo Schultz, a police detective. This pair could be solving cases with legal pads and pencils, and readers would still be drawn to them. This time single mom PJ is keeping an eye on the online gaming addiction of her teenage son and trying to decide what kind of commitment to give the lovably exasperating Schultz. Meanwhile, the police are struggling with a series of brutal murders that may be tied to a serial killer. Schultz hits the streets in search of clues, and PJ fires up her virtual reality program to relive the grisly crimes. A top-notch series that satisfies both readers seeking page-turning suspense and those looking for characters so real you almost expect to see them at the local diner." - Booklist
"Shirley Kennett is finally getting the credit she deserves for being one of the most accomplished page-turners working in the suspense field today. Her books are smart, packed with tension, and filled with people you cheer for."
- Ed Gorman, author of BAD MONEY and BLOOD MOON
"Kennett's writing is taut and unyielding, and like great baseball pitchers she throws the curves fast and with uncanny accuracy. Reading this book was like watching someone juggle plates while skateboarding down a steep hill. You aren't sure how it will end, just that it will be spectacular. I loved every minute of this book and look forward to her next." - Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine
"The story line ... is brilliantly supplemented with the seemingly dysfunctional relationship between PJ and Leo." - Harriet Klausner
"While PJ uses science and technology to solve crimes, her partner Detective Leo Schultz uses his gut instincts. Ms. Kennett has penned characters that are multi-dimensional and believable. A worthwhile read." - Love Romances
"This page-turner of a thriller builds to its climax on a solid foundation of police procedure, cutting edge virtual reality crime scene simulation, and realistic and likeable protagonists. So fasten your seatbelts: the murders are multiple and bloody and the past atrocities that spawned them are puzzling and creepy enough to keep your lights burning all night." - Carole Nelson Douglas, author of FEMME FATALE and SPIDER DANCE