Something’s not right with the latest manuscript that true-crime writer Marie Lightfoot (The Whole Truth, 2000) has just sent off to her publisher. The story is straightforward enough: Robert Wing, charismatic leader of the White Sands Gospel Church, is found guilty of the murder of his wife Susanna, while his alleged partner in crime Artemis MacGregor wins an acquittal. There’s the requisite erotic edge to the tale: Wing and MacGregor were allegedly lovers. There’s even a hint of irony, since Wing is an ardent crusader against the death penalty, and his conviction derails his campaign to save death row inmate Steve Orbach, landing the minister in the cell next to Orbach’s. So what’s the problem? Marie’s editor, Charlotte Amstell, thinks the book may spend too much energy on the murder ten years ago of pretty Allison Tobias, who was found beaten and smothered the morning after her first night in her first apartment—an apartment upstairs from the one Orbach rented after his release from prison for killing his mother. But Marie’s new assistant Deborah Dancer thinks that Marie should look even harder into the Tobias murder. So Marie looks again at Wing, at the detective who investigated the case, at the crumbling mansion where the body was found—but, most of all, at two items brought to her by the little girls who discovered Susanna Wing’s body: a canvas bag filled with toiletries and a diamond ring.
Like Agatha Christie in her prime, Pickard uses her characters’ relationships to craft a puzzle that’s a joy to solve.