Edge of Redfish Lake is the Alaska Salmon Fisheries story wrapped within the framework of an intense psychological crime thriller. At the plot core is an investigative reporter who gets framed by a serial killer for the same series of notorious crimes he is covering for a Seattle newspaper, after the two men worked together in Alaska. Think Deadliest Catch plus Woodward/Bernstein’s All the President's Men meets Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel.
It’s the summer of 1988 and talented graduate Julian Hopkins has just landed a job on the investigations team for the Seattle Post-Register. He has two months before his dream career begins, just enough time to head north to the rough and rugged Bristol Bay in Alaska for one last salmon season with the company he worked for each summer through college.
But an evil menace lurks at Dragline Fisheries. During eight weeks of grueling labor, events occur that forever change Julian, his friends and co-workers. A body is discovered. On the heels of a massive storm, a beloved legacy fisherman tragically drowns. Emotionally vulnerable, Julian takes refuge in an unintended place, inadvertently inciting the wrath of a soulless killer bent on revenge. As the season mercifully ends, the monster follows him south, only to haunt him in ways that will not only define Julian’s new journalism career but the rest of his life.
Back at Dragline headquarters in Everett, Washington detectives discover two murder victims. Were the crimes committed by the region’s most prolific serial killer still on the lamb? Or were they done by someone much closer to the seafood company? The investigation intensifies when a third victim is found, prompting the FBI, Green River Killer Task Force and DNA forensic scientists to get involved. Both detectives and journalists investigate. There’s a manhunt, arrest and trial. Lines blur between hunter and hunted; truth and lies, good and evil. Media coverage of the region’s biggest news story explodes with Julian Hopkins squarely at the center… in more ways than one!
In his debut novel, Conrad Jungmann Jr. leads us on a harrowing journey to the edge of betrayal and vengeance, love, loss, life, justice, jealousy, loyalty, truth and death. Edge of Redfish Lake is a terrifying, can’t-put-it-down tale with powerful undertones and unexpected epiphanies, some strong enough to make a ruthless killer stop killing, that don’t end until the final page is turned.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 11:
Joe pointed Proud Mary across the wide choppy river and maneuvered into the cove he knew fish always balled up in during harsh weather. His grandpa had shown him this place. Charlie hid under in his raingear. Just as they started to let out their first net, a flicker of sunlight shot through the clouds. They both smiled in relief as if they had just received good news in a doctor’s office.
“Well I’ll be damned. I think the weather is breaking up,” Joe said. “And look at all the Redfish. I knew they’d be here. It’s going to be an epic day!”
Fish were pooling along the entire length of Kanulik Beach. The first net they set out was teeming with Sockeye before it was even fully extended. It was one of their best pulls of the season. Sure, the water was a bit lumpy but they ignored it as they whooped and hollered like cowboys on mechanical bulls. As they picked the net free, they rejoiced in the fact that they were the only boat in the cove and had the whole school to themselves! In less than an hour they had covered their deck. They caught more Sockeye than Charlie had ever seen before, more than their first pull of the season during the Ekok opener or any pull since. The Kasilof was anchored just a half mile away around the bend, and as they off-loaded the captain reminded them to stay in protected waters. He and Clint had just unloaded another group of boats from fishermen who had come up from the south coast. They were calling it quits because they were convinced more harsh weather was on the way.
On their way back to the protected stretch of beach, Joe said, “You know, you really have come a long way this season, Charlie. You’re picking things up real fast. You’re brave and Grandpa Stevens would be damn proud of you right now. We have another fisherman in the Stevens family.”
Charlie glowed with pride.
As the duo began to drop their net a second time, without warning they were struck by a sudden and ominous blast of wind. The temperature plummeted. The squall attacked like a sledge hammer, swirling up surging waves with repeated blows. Rain blew sideways and stung the men’s faces like stinging sand. Rising white-capped waves crashed into the side of the boat, splashing water over the side which gushed back and forth across the deck. It all happened so fast that even Joe was caught off guard. As it intensified Joe knew the back edge of the storm had returned to unleash a second dose of ill intentioned fury. Charlie was seized with fear.
“Okay. Okay. This is getting nautical,” Joe screamed above the raging turmoil. “Let’s pull the net in now and get the hell out of here.”
He took a step out of the cabin towards the hydraulic wheel. Six-foot whitecaps broke in every direction.
“This is turning serious Charlie. We need to find shelter, fast.”
As if by Satan’s command, a towering, jagged wave jolted them broadside and the bow of the boat sliced up sideways out of the foam towards the sky. It came down awkwardly on the backside of a cement hard wave ridge, jerking the craft violently forwards. Joe lost his grip and was tossed to the deck. His gut hit the wheel with a vicious smack. Another wave struck the rear of the boat, throwing the craft aloft to the left. With the wind knocked out of him, Joe struggled to his feet but lost his footing again. He was thrown backwards into the air. His knife flipped out of his hand into the water below. The back of his head cracked against the metal rail and his feet flew up and over. Joe disappeared over the side. Charlie, who had once again been hiding under his raingear with his eyes closed turned around just in time to see the bottom of Joe’s boots disappear into the frigid water.
“JOE!” he screamed.
Joe’s head bobbed up. Blood poured freely from a deep gash on the back of his skull. He choked out surf and reached his arms high.
Joe’s head was pulled violently back under the whitewash then popped up again, a little lower this time. Still unable to catch his breath, he spat blood and ice-cold spray from his already blue-tinged mouth. Diluted red streaks of water streamed across his face.
In a panic Charlie staggered towards him, falling hard on the slippery deck. He pulled himself up and crashed his way to Joe as the tempest threw them up and down, sideways and back. Finally, he latched on to Joe’s raised arm with his right hand and locked his left around the rail.
"I've got you Joe. I won’t let go. Promise."
Pulling. Fighting. Willing. The rubber raingear was too wet. Slipping. The net was an anchor dragging Joe down. Too cold. Nooo! With a pop, Charlie lost his grip and crashed back-wards on the deck. Joe’s head vanished again under the turmoil. He was down longer this time before he reappeared. Desperately lurching out into the washboard as he re-emerged, Charlie grabbed his cousin by the hair. Joe seemed heavier. Charlie tugged. He pulled. But as hard as he strained, Charlie could not free his cousin from his icy trap.
“I’m stuck. My leg… my leg is in the net,” sputtered Joe. It was a struggle now to talk. His shivers were violent.
“Charlie… Give me. Give me… your knife. I think, I can… cut myself free.”
Charlie unhooked his left arm and reached down for the bright red crewman’s knife Joe told him to always keep in its sheath attached to his raingear. Oh, god! It wasn’t there. He slapped his chest. His pocket. His belt. No knife. The sheath was empty. He looked over to where he had been sitting near the bow and panicked. His knife was probably laying on the deck twelve feet away. He couldn’t see it, but it had to be there. It had to be! He looked back and held Joe’s eyes with his own… then glared at the sky. Dear God, help me. What do I do?
Sensing Charlie’s panic and fearing the truth, Joe’s whisper was crushed ice.
"Don't let me die, Charlie."
Buoys that had minutes before been thrashing on the surface had now disappeared. The entire net had evaporated under the weight of masses of fish. In that terrifying moment, Charlie considered his choice. Should he let go, knowing Joe would certainly go under, run up to find his knife, then run back and try to cut him free? Or should he keep hanging on so Joe stays above water where can breathe and hope that help arrives in time to save him?
“Don’t… Let… Me… Die. Charlie.”
Joe’s words came out with a strain.
What should he do? Joe had already been in the frigid water too long. The stream of blood from his wound was slowing, a sure sign hypothermia had set in. But Joe was trying to remain conscious. Fighting to stay alive. Oh Joe! JOE! In a final act of desperate horror, Charlie watched as red escaped Joe’s lips and cruel hard blue swept in to take its place.
“Jen… my boys. Love...”
An hour later another crew battling their own gillnetter into the wind towards the Kasilof spotted what looked like an empty fishing boat in the cove off Kanulik Beach. It bobbed haphazardly, like a sailboat with a broken mast dragging heavy anchor. As they approached, they were drawn to the nightmarish sound of someone caught in a never-ending scream. Charlie’s left arm gripped the rail so tight it broke in two places when they pried him free. His right thumb was grotesquely dislocated sideways and three of his fingers were snapped across the top. All of them were frozen in a gnarled fist still desperately clenching a ripped-out nest of Joe Steven’s long blond wavy hair.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 24:
For dinner, Lindsay chose a quiet little Italian restaurant on Dexter Avenue, close enough to Lake Union to see the boats passing by one window and the Space Needle portending out the other. It was a clear night and the lights of the city played their reflections on the tranquil water like a love song. But Julian’s attention was focused only on Lindsay Fiori. Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun and she wore thin designer glasses over sincere and compassionate, yet subtly sad eyes. To him, her smile resembled a palace of sand; beautiful, intricate and delicate, yet easily damaged, and probably hard to rebuild. This wasn’t going to be easy. He had a lot to say.
“You may remember when I pulled Dillon aside at the bar the other night,” he began. “I shared some things with him. I need to share those things with you too. And I should probably start at the beginning.”
Julian told her about arriving in Dillingham after his job interview with Francis Bernard and how he had been thrown right in to work. He painted visual pictures of the people he had worked with, things they had said, places he’d seen and gone. At first, he had planned not to say anything about Hannah, but then changed his mind and confessed to Lindsay the whole truth. The more he talked, the easier it became. Lindsay was enthralled, almost disbelieving of the tales he spun of such faraway wild places. The Agulowak, Egegik, Aleknagik, Dillingham, Ekok Beach; secretly, she longed to go see those places herself. She asked lots of questions and sat spellbound as he spun a long descriptive narrative. They both laughed when he imitated Archie. But right about the time the waiter announced he was closing the kitchen, Julian’s mood changed.
“The summer was also full of tragedy, Lindsay. And I’m still trying to make sense of it all.”
In a subdued voice he told her about the drowned Native boys, and finding Jaythan Chiklak under the dock. He nearly broke down when he told her about Charlie and Joe. Lindsay nearly cried herself. She didn’t have words to give.
“The worst part is, I don’t think it’s over,” he whispered. “We worked with a killer up there. I’m sure of it. And I think he followed me down here. I think he may have even killed the Vallesteros sisters. Dillon thinks so too.”
“His name is Lev Warrens and he was kicked out of camp for being a thief. He made threats when he left. Some were at me. He’s a severely deranged guy, and honestly, I’m a little nervous about what he will do next. He came to my house last week in Everett when I wasn’t home. I’ve been packing a pistol ever since.”
She gasped and grabbed his hand tightly.
“Oh my god. He came to your house? Jesus. What are you going to do? Have you told the police? Wait. You think he killed the Vallesteros sisters? They really need to know that.”
“Yes. I called Lieutenant Hargrove this morning and told him all about it. That’s why I was late. But I don’t want to say anything to Francis Bernard. Or anyone else. Not yet. Just you.”
They both sat silent. Lindsay was quivering.
“That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re not going back there. To your house. You can’t! Not with Lev Warrens around. He knows where you live, Julian. Jesus. I’m freaking out just knowing someone like that is out there roaming around. You can sleep on my couch until they catch him. I insist.”
Julian gazed at the lights of the boats moving towards the Ballard Locks, the soothing shimmer of glistening Seattle. Maybe that was smart. The only decent sleep he’d had since Lev’s appearance at his house was in the back of his truck that night on the Skagit. Every time he entered his apartment he expected the man to be there waiting for him. His nerves were frayed.
“On your couch?”
Lindsay tried not to smile.
“Well… Maybe not on my couch for long.”