Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman
|Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: City lawyer Chris Hawks finds himself in rural Minnesota trying to prove his teenage daughter innocent of murder. Good solid crime writing at its best - nothing fancy, but totally gripping.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: March 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
Florian Steele CEO of Mondamin Research is receiving threats retribution. The threats are non-specific but speak of his sins being found out. They are signed Aquarius.
One night seventeen-year old Ashlynn is driving home. She gets a flat tyre and of all the places in the world finds herself stranded in the ghost town: an abandoned farm community that no longer exists on the map and that no-one with any sense would be driving through at the dead of night. But there is more than one kind of sense. These days, another kind says that if you are from the town of Barron (home to Mondamin Research) you don't drive through St Croix – a neighbouring community that is the focus of a recent cancer cluster. The people of St Croix blame Mondamin and by extrapolation everyone in Barron. For the young people this has spilled over into an outright old-fashioned feud.
For Ashlynn though, it's worse. She is Florian Steele's daughter.
So she took a diversion and now she's stranded.
For Ashlynn it's going to get a whole lot worse. She is not alone in the dark. The two figures emerging out of the night aren't strangers, but they are deadly. Young as Ashlynn herself, school-mates if not exactly friends, lost, hurt, and angry. And one of them has a gun.
Christopher Hawk is a lawyer. Not a trial lawyer, a corporate one, but he is going to need his early criminal training in something of a hurry. His daughter Olivia has just been charged with Ashlynn's murder. Although Chris has tried to keep up with his daughter since she moved with his ex-wife back to the maternal homestead in St Croix, he's pretty much out of touch. He's also nervous about dealing with the ex-wife he's still very much in love with.
Of course he believes his daughter is innocent. Doesn't he? Hard to tell. She looks guilty enough.
So the scene is set. There is a secretive research laboratory which one town loves because it provides much needed work and another fears and loathes because it is suspected of illegal pollution of whatever kind might account for the cluster of leukaemia that has seen many of the close-knit families lose a friend or relative. There is a brutal murder. There are anonymous threatening letters. There are gangs. There are beautiful teenage girls dating bad teenage boys. There are small town jealousies. There are small town officials. And lurking underneath it all are foul and filthy secrets.
Hawk just has to prove that Olivia is innocent, which (if she is) might mean finding a motive for someone else to be guilty. Motives, it seems, are not in short supply in and around Barron and St Croix.
My advance reading copy of the book heads up the blurb with Why haven't you read Brian Freeman yet? That is a very good question. The Daily Mail is quoted as saying he is as brilliant as Harlan Coben. I've read that of other authors and discovered they came nowhere near. With Freeman though, it's not short of the mark.
Spilled Blood is in Coben vein: the crime thriller set in remote places where everyone should know everyone else, but secrets are still artfully shrouded. The emptiness of rural Minnesota is a perfect backdrop. The towns are fictional, but a short author's note addresses those of his readers who like to try to place locales on a real map and outlines the places of inspiration for his creations. It's not necessary – I'm sure anyone who knows the area could conjure it up and those of us who've never been anywhere near Minnesota can be equally sure of exactly where he's talking about, despite the fact that scarcely a sentence is wasted in telling us.
The over-used epithet that no-one is quite what they seem does not apply. Some of Freeman's characters are exactly what they appear to be. Others are something entirely different. The trick is in working out which are which. Even when you think you've got it, you might be wrong. Figuring out that some-one may be lying, won't necessarily tell you why or what about. That's the craftsman at work.
The pace is swift, but not relentless. The puzzle is teasing. The writing is sharp, spare and simple. The characters utterly real.
The final twist is one I should have seen coming, but didn't.
And the whole builds to one truly cataclysmic finale.
In these days of the drive for series and extended-life characters, especially in the crime genre, it's good to know that there is still room for quality one-off story-telling.
If YOU haven't read Brian Freeman yet, I recommend you start.
Obviously, if you're not familiar with Coben, then that's the place to start: try Tell No One by Harlan Coben - but for more strange story-telling in out-of-the-way America, try the so nearly perfect Castle by J Robert Lennon.
You can read more book reviews or buy Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman at Amazon.com.
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