Bill Mesce Jr- Legacy: A DiMarchese Case File

Dante DiMarchese is a forensic psychologist, an expert in the workings of the criminal mind and the man responsible for putting the Bailey Beach serial killer behind bars. When a soldier home from a tour in Afghanistan is charged with manslaughter, Dante is immediately called on to help. Meanwhile, the Bailey Beach killer is threatening to smear Dante’s name, while Dante’s persistent ex-brother-in-law ropes him into an inheritance dispute between a still-living father and his family. In the heart of New York, will Dante’s unravel the legacies and lies that others have left behind? Can he contain his own deceptions?

There is the age-old adage that you should never judge a book by its cover, and Legacy is very much proves the rule. I must admit that I was a little put off by the very ordinariness of the book jacket on this, but what a little gem of a thriller lies between its pages…

With its sharp shooting, rat-a-tat dialogue cut through with humour and pathos throughout, Bill Mesce has produced an incredibly readable and highly enjoyable tale centring on the vain and self absorbed character of forensic psychologist, Dante DiMarchese. Enchanting and infuriating in equal measure, DiMarchese is a brilliant creation suffused with professional arrogance and obsession with his appearance, but gloriously underpinned by a genuine sense of morality,  as we observe his involvement with three disparate criminal cases. With somewhat of a car crash personal life, and an inherent knack of getting up most people’s noses, he walks a fine line between irritation for his overdeveloped solipsism, but possessing a charm and honesty that is really rather endearing. I loved this blend of characteristics within him, and equally the reaction of others to him. His long suffering secretary, Esther Froelich, proves a feisty defender of her self imposed position of arbiter of Checkpoint Charlie, as she calls her office, and is a wonderful foil for the shenanigans of her employer, particularly in the realm of hypothetical situations. She very much reminded me of the redoubtable Mrs Landingham from West Wing with her sharp tongue and no-nonsense approach, and the scenes between her and Dante were a joy. There are some pointed and bitter encounters with some in Dante’s personal circle that lead to some caustic and darkly funny episodes, and also those that manage to make us reassess the character of Dante completely. Throughout the select band of supporting characters generally,  we observe a host of contrasting reactions with, and respect for Dante, which fills out our general impression of him, but will our strutting peacock of a main man take some of this criticism on board and mend his ways? That would be telling, but I think there’s more than enough scope for us to waltz with Dante once again…

The book spans Dante’s personal and professional involvement in three contrasting cases, and the case of a contested will, revealing some pretty ugly and acrimonious familial relations is dwelt on the most. Although this legal battle was interesting in, and of, itself focussing on jealousy, manipulation and miscommunication, I felt there was a slight imbalance in the narrative, as the two other cases, one of an emotionally damaged war veteran, and an incarcerated serial killer, had the potential to hold more of the ground in the book, and I felt the former case in particular was worthy of greater focus, as I was interested in this young man’s experiences and his route to a moment of madness. However, on discovering that this was originally written as a screenplay, I totally understand the need to stretch the narrative over three stories and to focus on one in particular to hold the viewer’s interest, but in a novel I would have adjusted the balance slightly with the luxury of more room to explore the perpetrator’s motives and mind-sets. To be honest though, this is just a minor quibble in what proves to be a thoroughly engaging tale of dubious morality, emotional turbulence and the search for resolution, or revenge, in differing ways.

With its feel of John Grisham meets Elmore Leonard, I would heartily recommend Legacy as a bit of a must read for fans of contemporary American crime fiction. Looking forward to Mr DiMarchese’s next cases however he is coiffured…

(With thanks to Impress Books for the ARC)

A. D. Garrett- Believe No One

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Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore has engineered lectures in Chicago and St Louis – a ploy to get to Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms. She’s in the United States on sabbatical with St Louis PD, and he’s keen to see her again. Simms is working with a ‘method swap’ team, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. But Simms came to the US to escape the fallout from their previous case – the last thing she needs is Fennimore complicating her life.

A call for help from a sheriff’s deputy in Oklahoma seems like a welcome distraction for the professor – until he hears the details: a mother dead, her child gone – echoes of Fennimore’s own tragedy.

Nine-year-old Red, adventuring in Oklahoma’s backwoods, has no clue that he and his mom are in the killer’s sights. Back in St Louis, investigators discover a pattern: victims – all of them young mothers – dumped along a 600 mile stretch of I-44. The Oklahoma and St Louis investigations converge, uncovering serial murders across two continents and two decades. Under pressure, the killer begins to unravel, and when a fresh body surfaces, the race is on to catch the I-44 killer and save the boy.

 

Having reviewed the first collaboration between crime author Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay, Everyone Lies , here last year, I was looking forward to Believe No One, the second in the series. Relocating DCI Kate Simms and forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore to the USA for the duration of this book was a brave and original move, so was interested to see how effectively this would work…

Without a doubt, all the essential tensions and unspoken chemistry between the main protagonists, so evident in Everyone Lies, shone through and the characterisation of Kate and Nick was pitch perfect. I like the more dysfunctional aspects of their characters very much, Nick’s through the loss of his wife and child, and Kate through the pressures of her professional and personal life as a high ranking female detective. I also loved the premise of Kate hot-footing it to America at the earliest opportunity, to provide some distance from her suffocating relationship with Nick, only for Nick to appear in a true ‘tah-da’ fashion, like a genie from the bottle. The ramifications of the intensity of their investigation in the first book, and Nick’s continuing torment over his own personal tragedy, provide a solid base for the development of their of their relationship throughout the course of their American sojourn. Sometimes, I did want to give Nick a good shake, as he does come across at times as too much of a little wounded puppy, rather than adhering to the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and somehow undermining his professionalism as a forensic psychologist of some distinction. Likewise, Kate is a little indulgent with him at times, whilst trying to distance herself, so these less admirable facets of their characters, make them altogether more human, and interesting for the reader, manipulating our empathy back and forth between them.

Less successful for me was the actual realisation of the investigation that both Kate and Nick find themselves immersed in. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the plot, which I found compelling, as the hunt is on for a serial killer, and serial killers, by and large always provide good morbid entertainment for the average crime reader. The little twists and turns of the investigation were pleasing enough, although I did find the direct echoing of Nick’s personal tragedy, with the disappearance of women and children, a little forced at times. Being a prolific reader of American crime fiction, I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I did feel that there was a certain lack of authenticity about the realisation of the American characters. I did begin to feel that they could have been transposed to any country, and felt they lacked a real sense of ‘being American’. I don’t know if this was due in part to the stiffness of the dialogue when Kate and Nick were interacting with their American counterparts, which to me didn’t carry the cadence of realistic American speech patterns, or just an overall weakness in capturing the feel of the American location generally. It was almost as if the plot and the development of Kate and Nick’s characters took prominence over the attention that should have been afforded to rooting the story in the location chosen and imbuing the American characters with an authentic voice.

However, criticisms aside, I would still recommend this book, along with the first, as a solid pick for crime readers. With the experience of Margaret Murphy accrued from many years as a crime writer, and the intricacy and detail of the forensic psychology that Professor Dave Barclay brings to the collaboration, the foundation is built for a long-running series. I, for one, am very interested to see what Kate and Nick get involved in next…

A. D. Garrett is the pseudonym for the writing collaboration of prize-winning thriller writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay. Margaret Murphy is the author of nine psychological thrillers. She lectures on writing and is a former Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow. She is founder of Murder Squad, a touring collective of crime writers, and was Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association in 2009-10. Professor Barclay holds two university posts and is a forensic adviser to the police forces and the media. He was Head of Physical Evidence at the UK National Crime and Operations Faculty for 10 years. He is currently working for several UK police forces and a state of Australia on high profile murders. He is part of the ‘Murder, Mystery and Microscopes’ team which aims to explain the real science behind popular crime fiction via a national series of public lectures http://www.margaretmurphy.co.uk/

(With thanks to Constable & Robinson for the ARC)