A haunting photograph sets an aspiring novelist to sniffing out clues in a cold case with roots in an even more distant past.
Kathy Moran’s Pulitzer-winning photo is notorious not only because it shows a bride standing by the seaside with a long-barreled revolver in her hand, but because she snapped it the night the bride in question, Megan Cahill, was married and widowed 10 years ago. Palisades Heights investor Raymond Cahill’s murder has never been solved, and Stacey Kim, the hopeful writer toiling as a receptionist in a Manhattan law firm, is convinced that the photo holds the key to the novel she hasn’t been able to write. Before she can book a flight to Oregon to interview the principals in the case, Margolin (Worthy Brown’s Daughter, 2014, etc.) takes his time relating the facts—which implicate both Megan and her abusive ex, Oakland Raiders running back Parnell Crouse—from the viewpoint of Jack Booth, the assistant attorney general who’s been packed off to Palisades Heights to help Siletz County D.A. Teddy Winston handle the case. And, as if that weren’t enough, the tale delves further back to Jack’s first encounter with Kathy Moran five years earlier, when she was a young defense attorney he squared off against the time she defended Portland drug dealer Gary Kilbride on a murder charge while Jack dreamed about getting her into bed. Stacey’s improbable search for the truth—isn’t she supposed to be writing a novel?—eventually pays off in a best-selling nonfiction book for her and a satisfying solution for the rest of us.
The Chinese box puzzle takes some getting used to, but it allows Margolin to deliver one of his cleverest cases while concealing his principal flaw—paper-thin characters—beneath constant shifts in time and case.