A young autistic man obsessed with criminology is charged with the murder of his tutor, in Picoult’s suspenseful but anticlimactic latest (Handle with Care, 2009, etc.).
Jacob, now 18, first exhibited signs of Asperger’s syndrome at three, shortly after his first vaccination series. Highly verbal and analytical, but flummoxed by the most ordinary social interactions, Jacob negotiates a world fraught with terrors by adhering to a rigid set of rules and calming rituals. Jacob’s life centers around a CSI-esque TV show called CrimeBusters, which he must watch each afternoon as punctiliously as Rain Man watches Wapner. Usually, Jacob beats the CrimeBusters cast to a solution of each episode’s mystery by about 20 minutes. He’s created his own forensics lab in his bedroom, and, alerted by a police scanner, has snuck out at night to “crash” crime scenes in his small Vermont hometown. His mother, Emma, is a financially struggling, part-time advice columnist. Jacob’s father fled the chaotic household after Jacob knocked his younger brother Theo’s highchair over, wounding the infant. Theo, now 15, resents the oxygen sucked out of his family life by Jacob and, yearning to observe “normal” domesticity, has begun breaking into homes. Circumstances converge, resulting in the death, from blunt head trauma, of Jacob’s tutor, Jess, a college student. Theo enters a home where, unbeknownst to him, Jess is housesitting, and flees after surprising her in the shower. Her loutish boyfriend Mark had been observed quarreling with her earlier. Jacob, arriving for an appointment with Jess, finds her body and expertly sets up a crime scene to focus suspicion on Mark. The body of Jess is discovered in a culvert, and, on the pretext of seeking his advice, a police detective interrogates Jacob, who handily incriminates himself, even reciting his own Miranda Rights from memory. Emma hires a rookie attorney who gamely cobbles together a defense, with Jacob’s coaching.
Worth the read for the detailed dramatization of Asperger’s; however, like Jacob, the reader will solve this whodunit far in advance of the principals.