Written by John Hart, narrated by Scott Shepherd. You’d never guess this crime thriller is award-winning author John Hart’s first novel with a female protagonist. He writes from her point of view compellingly and expertly slips himself into her high heels where gender perspective makes a difference—as a detective partner, as a daughter, and as unofficial guardian to two troubled teens.
Elizabeth Black is a detective in a mid-sized North Carolina city who over 13 years has proved herself a good cop, though the men around her seem anxious to dismiss all that as soon as she encounters difficulties. And she encounters them by the bushel.
When a radio call leads her to an abandoned house where a missing 18-year-old girl, Channing Shore, might be hidden away, Elizabeth doesn’t wait for backup. A few hours later, Elizabeth and Channing walk out. In the basement are the bodies of Brendan and Titus Monroe with 18 bullet wounds. Bullets lodged in the floor suggest at least some of the shots occurred after the men were down.
There’s no question Channing was raped and tortured for 40 hours and that Elizabeth saved her. But the case has drawn the attention of the North Carolina attorney general, who sends state police investigators to determine whether the brothers’ death involved police brutality. A newspaper headline says it all: “Hero Cop or Angel of Death?”
As a rookie, Elizabeth looked up to and perhaps even loved a detective named Adrian Wall, a detective’s detective whom other cops and the media admired. Wall has spent the last dozen years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He’s released just as the pressure on Elizabeth Black is mounting, but he’s no sooner out than a second woman’s body is found killed in the same way. Then a third.
From that point on, the two stories—Elizabeth’s quest to clear her reputation and be reinstated on the force and her desire to prove Adrian Wall’s innocence of the women’s murders are intertwined.
One consistent ally is retired lawyer Faircloth “Crybaby” Jones, nearly 90, who unsuccessfully defended Wall during his trial and has regretted that failure ever since. Crybaby is a wonderful character who combines the courtliness of the Old South with a fox’s wily instincts.
In a post-book interview, author Hart revealed that he’d basically written the book—some 300 pages—before discovering that the protagonist was not whom he had chosen. He found that the center of the book, its heart, was Elizabeth. Changing the point of view of a novel involves a lot more than changing “he’s” to “she’s.” That was a decision with time-gobbling consequences that has really paid off for readers.
Actor Scott Shepherd does a brilliant job narrating this novel with its range of characters. Often a female narrator is selected for a book with a female protagonist, but his rendering of Elizabeth is perfect. She’s female, but not in any clichéd way. The same goes for Channing and the several other women. He has just the right amount of easygoing South in his voice and avoids caricature. Amazing how one talent can produce all these different people! Just terrific.