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by William Landay
Bantam, June 2003
359 pages
ISBN: 0593049322

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ben Truman is 24 years old and chief of police in Versailles (pronounced Ver-sales, not as in the French palace), Maine. He has inherited the position from his father, having given up a potential academic career as a historian to return home to help nurse his mother who had Alzheimers.

During a routine patrol of cabins near Lake Mattaquisett, Ben discovers the body of Robert Danziger, a Boston attorney. The city police descend on the small town, but Ben attaches himself to the enquiry, aided by retired copy John Kelly. Danziger's death looks like it links back to a number of deaths some years previously -- a policeman shot in a bar, and another killed during a drugs raid.

The action soon decamps to the city as police pursue Harold Braxton, a young black drug dealer, who is prime suspect for the murder of the attorney. But Ben is soon asking himself whether Harold is as guilty and the police as innocent as they first seem, And before too much longer, the reader starts to wonder about the reliability of Ben's narration.

This is one stately galleon of a book. It's no slick page-turner a la Patterson, rather a multi-textured, multi-layered character-driven study that just happens to be a crime novel, Reading it is like peeling back an onion as many layers are revealed gradually.

Landay's over-riding strength is the elegance of his prose and the careful way in which he doles out character information. It is impossible to read this book fast, or to coast through it. The ending, I suspect, will divide readers. You might argue that Landay doesn't play fair with his audience; my feeling is that he's already planted enough doubts in our heads for it to work. I would have felt particularly cheated by a tied-up neatly with a bow on top ending.

Landay's ambitious and precocious book works outside the conventional crime fiction box and puts him up there with the likes of fellow Bostonian Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos. He is undoubtedly a writer to watch.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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