When Caleb Roehrig publishes a new book, it immediately skyrockets to the top of our reading list. His debut, Last Seen Leaving, was our favorite Young Adult novel of 2016. And he followed that amazing thriller with White Rabbit, which was yet another edge-of-your-seat read. Now he’s back with Death Prefers Blondes, one of our most anticipated YA novels of 2019, and the description alone will have you dying to read it:
Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.
But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them—for good?
Intrigued? You’re in luck, because we have an exclusive excerpt from the book to share with you (courtesy of Roehrig’s publisher Feiwel & Friends) and an introduction to the excerpt from Roehrig himself.
“I was probably eight or nine years old the first time my father showed us Blake Edwards’s hilarious 1975 detective comedy, The Return of the Pink Panther,” Roehrig tells Paste. “The film opens with a daring break-in at a heavily-fortified national museum; the thief slides along a cable, sneaks past armed guards, crawls under a laser grid, and makes off with a diamond the size of a duck’s egg. And it was about this same time that we watched The Great Muppet Caper, in which a trio of thieves infiltrate the fictional Mallory Gallery with grappling hooks, lock picks, and assorted other tools. The industry of robbing museums struck me as glamorous and thrilling, and [it] greatly influenced my games of make-believe for years after.”
“These scenes captured my imagination so thoroughly, in fact, that they were still lurking about my memory a decade later when I got the first inspiration for a story that would eventually become Death Prefers Blondes…Just as in The Return of the Pink Panther, the book opens with a break-in at a museum; Margo and her crew of smart-mouthed, ass-kicking drag queens are looking to make off with a fortune in priceless rococo paintings on loan from the French government, and the only thing standing between them and success are deadly security protocols and men with guns.”
Death Prefers Blondes releases on January 29th, and you can pre-order it here.
The guard was still facedown on the floor a few feet away, evidently out cold, and Leif stood up again. Offering his hand, he said, “Then let’s go.”
Taking the assist, Joaquin scrambled to his feet, and they hurried past the guard, breaking into a run the second they hit the Grand Hall.
They got there just in time to hear the gunshots.
Hurling the satchel of priceless artworks to the floor, Margo broke out in a dead sprint. With no fire escape, no back staircase to the second floor, and no entrance to the administrative corridor, there was only one way out of the rococo room: back through the sculpture gallery. She had one choice, and one chance. When the guards saw her coming, running full tilt and unbuckling her zip line harness, the one in front stumbled to a confused halt. “Stop!”
Margo picked up speed instead, ripping the harness off and gathering one end in her fist. With ten feet to spare, the first guard drew his firearm. Planting his feet shoulder-width apart, he jerked out the weapon and squeezed the trigger.
The bullet hit nothing but air; the report was deafening and harmless as Margo hurled herself to the ground. Her knees bent and her back pressed to the floor, momentum sent her across the slick marble tile like a hockey puck, her nylon bodysuit putting up minimal resistance as she shot straight between the first guard’s feet. The second man was taken by complete surprise, utterly unprepared when she slid into view, legs already scissoring up.
One boot caught him in the thigh, the other in the groin, and she brought him off his feet. Unable to get his hands in front of him in time, he went down like a condemned building, slamming fast and hard onto the unforgiving stone; a groan huffed weakly from
the back of his throat, and then he went still. Margo kept moving, though, rolling up onto one knee and spinning to face the first guard. The man was already turning, firearm outthrust, and she swung hard with the zip line harness.
The thick straps tangled around the guard’s wrist, and Margo yanked him off balance just as he pulled the trigger a second time. This bullet slammed into the floor, while the recoil and lack of control cost the man his weapon. Flying from his grip, the gun bounced and skidded into the dense shadows that swarmed the statuary.
Spinning again, still on one knee, Margo slammed her boot into the man’s stomach. He stumbled back, winded and gasping, and she kipped up to her feet. For a moment, they squared off; the guard had other weapons at his disposal, and her next move would depend on which he chose to attack with. He eyed her warily, backing up another step, and then his face creased in shock. “You’re…you’re just a kid.”
“I’m kind of a problem child,” Margo admitted, panting. The man immediately grabbed for the Taser on his belt, fumbling with the holster snaps, and she darted forward. The second the weapon was in the clear, she took hold of his wrist, bracing it and stepping to the inside of his arm—her back to his front—hammering her elbow into his ribs. He responded by wrapping his free arm around her chest, pulling her against him, trying to immobilize her.
Kicking her right leg up, hyperextending her hip joint, Margo allowed the weight of the limb to do the work; it swung past her face, her calf brushing her ear, her shin touching her shoulder, and her boot slamming into the forehead of the man behind her.
Dazed, he lost his hold—on her and on the weapon—and she easily snatched the Taser out of his grasp. Spinning, she took two steps back and fired, the electrified prongs popping quietly as they streaked the short distance and plunged through the man’s uniform right above his name tag: Gerard.
Gerard the guard? Margo made a face as the man went stiff, eyes rolling back, a shudder passing through his frame. When the charge was spent, he slumped dramatically to the floor. Margo nudged him a little with her boot, just in case he was playing possum. A smell like singed hair rose up, and she decided he wasn’t.
She had rebuckled her harness and retrieved the bag with the stolen paintings when Leif and Joaquin appeared in the upper gallery. Both boys were disheveled, but their eyes were bright. Leif gestured at the two prone bodies. “We heard a gun. You had trouble?”
With a sly smile, she hitched a shoulder. “Nothing I couldn’t handle. You?”
A look passed between the two boys that she’d have loved to interrogate, but all Leif said was, “Same.”
“Good to know.” The guard she’d brought down first, the one who’d faceplanted firmly on the marble floor, was starting to move again; quickly, Margo took the pistol from his belt, emptied the clip, and tossed the works over the stone railing and down into the Grand Hall. The other gun was still somewhere nearby, hidden in the statuary, but there was no time to hunt for it. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Together, the three of them retraced the steps she’d taken earlier—Spain, Venice, Holland—and they were just easing open the door back into the administrative corridor when the bright chirp of a walkie talkie rang out under the vast ceiling. One of the guards was up, his unsteady voice carrying through the empty space. “...multiple intruders…two, maybe three…didn’t get a good look…”
“Go,” Margo whispered, ushering the two boys ahead of her into the pitch-black hallway and back to the office where they’d first entered the building.
A cool, damp breeze brought in the scent of urban life through the gaping hole of the window, and Margo sucked in a lungful. When the door was firmly shut behind them, she snatched off her glasses and activated her comm. “We’re in place. Commence extraction.”
“Are you all in place?” It was Axel, his tone a challenge.
“Yes, damn it!” Margo glared out the window at the concrete tiers of the parking garage across the way, suddenly wishing her fancy glasses had been equipped with a death laser as well as the night vision tech. “Fire the fucking thing already, Liesl!”
A moment later, there was a snap, and once again the grappling hook was hurtling out of the shadows and through the air above the alley. This time, however, it was rising up from a point on the second floor of the structure, its glittering fangs revolving slowly as it neared the window. When it cleared the emptied pane, it first struck the ceiling, then fell to the desk and rolled onto the floor, where Margo snatched it up. Anchoring it on the metal pipe below the window, she reported back through the comm, and watched as the cable was pulled taut from the other end.
“Okay, guys, time to get lost,” she urged, unable to dull the razor edge of anxiety in her voice. The guard would realize immediately that they hadn’t escaped by the central staircase, and the administrative hallway, with its emergency exit, was the only other way out; if he was looking for them, if he was close enough to have heard the grappling hook…
Axel broke in on her fretful train of thought. “All set.”
Margo signaled to Joaquin, who hooked his harness to the cable, climbed onto the sill, and jumped. His body shot across the alley, sleek as a torpedo, and Margo breathed a sigh of relief.
One down. No matter how much mayhem they faced on a job, the getaway was always the most stressful part. Nothing counted if they didn’t stick the dismount.
Then, as Joaquin heaved himself up over the railing of the parking garage, a heavy crash sounded from the far end of the administrative corridor—the door being flung open.
Their time was up.
“Go, go, go,” Margo hissed at Leif, shoving him toward the cable, but the boy resisted.
“I’ll hold him off.” With the delicate point of his chin, he gestured to the door leading into the hallway. “You should go first.”
Margo stiffened. “I’m always the last one out. That’s the rule.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got the stuff,” Leif returned, urgency heating his voice. Knobs rattled and more doors banged open along the corridor, the guard getting closer, checking offices. “If the paintings don’t get out, what was the point to any of this?”
He was right. Grimly, Margo yanked the satchel off her shoulders and shoved it into the boy’s arms. “The framed canvases have trackers implanted; you’ll see them as soon as you take off the backing. The second you get across—and I mean the very second—you rip those things out. Do whatever you have to, just don’t damage the merchandise!”
“Got it.” Leif nodded shortly, slinging the bag onto his back and tightening the straps. Then he hooked himself up to the zip line, and with a last look of misgiving, dropped out of sight. His clip made a sizzling noise at it skimmed the length of the cable, but the thump of Margo’s heart nearly drowned it out.
Or maybe that thump was the sound of the guard tossing open the door of the adjoining office.
Scrambling into the window, she clipped herself to the zip line and maneuvered onto the stone ledge. Across, Leif was dragging himself onto the lip of the second floor wall, each instant passing like an eternity. Unbalanced by the satchel, his leg slipped, and he had to try again. Margo’s mouth felt as dry as a bag of flour, her skin raging hot under the nylon.
Behind her, the doorknob jiggled, a key scraping the metal tumblers of the lock before snapping it open. Her body went electric with nerves. Leif cleared the railing, the door behind her flew open—and Margo dove off the ledge and into the air.