First, the brilliant: Gregg Hurwitz, The Crime Writer, Viking 2007.
Drew Danner has won minor acclaim in his Los Angeles habitat for his popular crime novels, but nothing could have prepared him for the major and unwelcome upgrade his celebrity rating gets when he is arrested and put on trial for the vicious murder of his beautiful ex-fiancée. Found slumped over Genevieve’s lifeless body clutching a bloody boning knife, Drew had suffered a grand mal seizure brought on by an untreated brain tumor—the emergency removal of which also excised any memory he might have had of the crime. After a highly publicized trial a jury sets him free on a verdict of compromised sanity. Unsatisfied with the evidence presented, Drew begins his own investigation into what happened that night. But when another woman is killed in the same manner he’s faced with two terrifying prospects: either he’s being framed or he’s harboring a killer in his unconscious.
Drew’s relationship with Genevieve had been stormy but ended amicably—or so he thought. So how can he explain the deliberately hurtful message she left on his voice mail the night she died? Resigning himself to certain irrefutable facts, Drew records his search for the truth in the form of a novel in which he is the protagonist. Both the real and fictional Drew comb through the evidence turned up by the police, the defense lawyers, and even Katherine Harriman, the prosecutor who took the case because its high-profile nature promised to boost her own career. During the course of the trial she turns words from one of his own novels against him, quoting, “I believe, in my darkest heart of hearts, that when fate and passion align, every last one of us, from the pulpit crier to the bus-stop blue-hair is capable of murder.” As he chases shadows—most of which lead back to himself—the words mock him with the increasing likelihood of his own guilt.
Gregg Hurwitz really can write!
I woke up with IVs taped to my arms, a feeding tube shoved through my nose, and my tongue pushed against my teeth, dead and thick as a sock. My mouth was hot and tasted of copper, and my molars felt loose, jogged in their beds from grinding. I blinked against the strong light, and squinted into a haze of face, too close for casual‹a man straddling a backward chair, thick forearms overlapped, a sheet of paper drooping from one square fist. Another guy behind him, dressed the same‹rumpled sport coat, loose tie offset from open collar, glint at the hip. Downgraded to bystander, a doctor stood by the door, ignoring the electronic blips and bleeps. I was in a hospital room.
With consciousness came pain. No tunnels of light, no bursts or fireworks or other page-worn clichés, just pain, mindless and dedicated, a rottweiler working a bone. A creak of air moved through my throat.
“He’s up,” said the doctor from faraway. A nurse materialized and fed a needle into the joint in my IV. A second later the warmth rode through my veins and the rottweiler paused to catch his breath.
I raised an arm trailing IV lines and fingered my head where it tingled. Instead of hair, a seam of stubble and stitches cactused my palm. Lightheadedness and nausea compounded my confusion. As my hand drifted back to my chest, I noticed dark crescents caking the undersides of my nails.
I’d dug myself out of somewhere?
The cop in the chair flipped the piece of paper over and I saw that it was an 8 x 10.
A crime-scene photo.
A close-up of a woman’s midsection, the pan of the abdomen caked with dark blood. A narrow puncture below the ribs faded into blackness, as if a stronger flashbulb were required to sound its depths.
I raised a hand as if to push away the image and in the dead blue fluorescence I saw that the grime under my nails carried a tinge of crimson. Whether from the drugs or the pain, I felt my gorge rise and push at the back of my throat. It took two tries and still my voice came out a rasp, barely audible around the plastic tube. “Who is that?”
“Who-who did that to her?”
The detective’s jaw shifted once, slowly, left to right. “You did.”
The ironic but totally poetic evocations of LA life are just wonderful. Definitely a Best Read of 2008.
The other novel is probably more than competent, but when one thinks of fellow Scot Ian Rankin it does pale, even if of interest and quite smartly plotted: Lin Anderson, Driftnet, Hodder pb 2006.
A teenager is found strangled and mutilated in a Glasgow flat. Leaving her warm bed and lover in the middle of the night to take forensic samples from the body, Rhona MacLeod soon recognises the likeness between herself and the dead boy and is horrified to think that he might be the son she gave up for adoption seventeen years before.
Amidst the turmoil of her own love life and consumed by guilt from her past, Rhona sets out to find both the boy’s killer and her own son. But the powerful men who use the Internet to trawl for vulnerable boys have nothing to lose and everything to gain by Rhona MacLeod’s death.
Ian Rankin does like the novel, I should add. It is good, but in this pairing it comes off second-best. It never leaps off the page, or not for me, the way The Crime Writer does.