A pulse-lowering thriller about writers who write about what they know.
The prolific Margolin (Ties That Bind, 2003, etc.) devotes his latest to a subject he knows well: author tours. Writer Miles van Meter is out promoting Sleeping Beauty, his true-crime bestseller about convicted serial killer Joshua Maxfield. According to van Meter’s account, Maxfield broke into the Portland, Oregon, home of Norman Spencer, murdering Spencer, then raping and murdering Tanya Jones, a high-school student spending the night with Spencer’s daughter Ashley, who escapes harm. Also spared is Ashley’s mother, Terri, away on assignment as a news reporter. To rebuild Ashley’s life, Terri suggests that the girl accept a soccer scholarship that Oregon Academy has offered. Terri also signs up at the Academy for the creative writing workshop taught by Joshua Maxfield. Maxfield alarms Terri when he reads to the class a story of murder that parallels the crime committed in her home. Certain that Maxfield wrote the piece from personal experience, Terri alerts Academy dean Casey van Meter (Miles’s sister). Jogging across campus one night, Ashley hears two screams. Drawing up to a shed, she discovers Maxfield holding a bloody knife and standing over the body of her mother. A comatose Casey lies nearby. Maxfield escapes, is caught, then escapes again just as he faces trial. Fearing that Maxwell will track her, Ashley flees to Europe but is persuaded to return when a lawyer reveals that Casey, not Terri, was Ashley’s mother. Ashley, the lawyer implores, must come home to claim her due as Casey’s daughter. She returns; Casey awakens from a five-year coma; and Maxfield, caught, tried, and convicted, becomes the subject of Sleeping Beauty. But Ashley thinks something about the case is wrong, and most readers will see early on that she’s right.
Flimsy plotting, thin characters, hoary clichés, grade-school prose: a “by the numbers” thriller.