Mercer Hennessey, a noted crime writer with a publisher who'd like to see her get back in the saddle, has spent more than a year crippled with grief: Her husband and two-year-old daughter Sophie died in a car accident, a one-car crash nearby. With the joy of her life gone, and little reason to take interest in life again, Mercer's been having a one-woman pity party at home all this time.
But her publisher, Katherine Craft, is Boston Back Bay stubborn, and sees Mercer as the perfect writer to tackle a courtroom story unfolding that week: the trial of Ashlyn Bryant, accused of murdering her own tiny daughter for the sake of more freedom in her skanky life. The little girl's corpse was called Baby Boston when first discovered, in its decomposing anonymity. There's no real doubt about Ashlyn's guilt. The trial will be direct and brutal, though -- and Katherine's offering a chance for Mercer to view the trial by a private line, the type set up for TV stations and other big journalistic enterprises, so she can stay home, see it all, and pound out a full-length book during the trial period, ready to rip into sales within just a few weeks from the "Guilty" verdict being finalized.
Katherine's both a friend and a clever editor, and she sets Mercer up brilliantly, so that the highly depressed writer takes a spark of anger and blows on it:
Kath understands, as much as anyone can. It's unfair for me to take my grief out on her. Is she right? Is there something I can do? ... Yes. I'll do it. To avenge Baby Boston. And I'll secretly dedicate this book to Sophie. To every little girl unfairly wrenched away from the world. The more I think about it, the more I know I can do it. I yearn to do it. ... Plus writing a book beat the options I'd already contemplated.At first it looks like Kath's scheme will succeed: Mercer is up and at it, researching, pounding out a "true crime" book (with creative dialogue) that will rack up sales like crazy. If, of course, the trial goes as planned.
But when it doesn't, and Kath's idea of book rescue involves Mercer and Ashlyn getting to know each other, very creepy and scary psychological twists pile up rapidly.
Not only is this one of the scariest and most believable thrillers I've handled recently -- cutting very close to the lives of many an author! -- but the suspense is brilliantly paced. And, perhaps even more striking, it appears Ryan has dipped deeply here into her own life, which includes investigative reporting and being married to a criminal defense attorney.
When the book races to its highly satisfying conclusion, astute readers will also believe they know a lot about Hank Phillippi Ryan and her husband, about Boston crime and crime solving, and about the possible redemptive strength from pairing courage with love, and not giving up.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.