In Leonard’s debut mystery, a woman investigates a murder in order to save her wrongfully accused 20-year-old son.
Julie is content with her life in Bowdoin Harbor, Maine. She sells houses as a real estate agent, and her sweet, learning-disabled son, Jeffrey, cleans them, and she thinks they make good companions. But during a cold Maine winter, she meets Jeffrey at an empty house she’s selling and finds him with the dead body of Dr. Blakeley, a plastic surgeon. Jeffrey’s fingerprints are on the knife that killed him, and the police who arrest him consider it a clear-cut case. Julie hires Clark, a lawyer with his own tragic family issues, to defend her son. (Clark’s wife, who has multiple personality disorder, recently killed his young daughter.) Clark soon finds himself attracted to Julie, but tries to keep his professional distance. Meanwhile, Liz, a former country-club employee who married an older man she met there, has secrets of her own and will do anything to keep up appearances. As Julie interviews people who knew Blakeley, she gets closer to finding the real killer. The novel is written from three different perspectives; Clark’s and Liz’s perspectives provide their back stories, while Julie’s lets the murder mystery unfold. Leonard effectively shows how Julie is motivated by pure love for her son: “A year, was all I could think, driving back to my office. Unless I managed to help him, Jeff was going to sit in that jail for a year.” She’s a strong character with, as Clark describes it, a “defiant against the world” attitude—but when she realizes what a dangerous situation she’s put herself in, it’s almost too late. Even when the novel’s prose isn’t especially polished, the story is sufficiently suspenseful and well-paced to carry readers through.
An engaging, readable story of a mother’s murder investigation.