Thank heavens there are only five books nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award for Best Novel – time is running out with the Awards banquet less then a month away, on April 27. You see all the nominees pictured – out of them, I have only previously read Before the Fall. My memory was that it was excellent. But let’s see how the others fare!
I’m starting out with The Ex, by Alafair Burke. It’s her first Edgar nomination, although her father, James Lee Burke has won the Best Novel Award three times (1990, 1998, and 2003) and was honored with the Grand Master Award in 2009. His daughter tends to write suspense, but this outing is pretty much a legal thriller (with strong suspense overtones, of course).
Criminal defense attorney Olivia Randall is surprised when she gets a phone call from a teenage girl, asking Olivia to help her father. Her dad? Jackson Harris Olivia’s former fiancé, whom she treated absolutely horribly by sleeping around in a semi-conscious effort to get him to break up with her, finally taking it to “unforgivable” territory by sleeping with his brother, Owen. It all gets even worse when over-tired and over-served Owen gets into a car wreck and is killed. That very night. After talking and drinking into the wee hours with Jack. Which causes Jack to have a nervous breakdown, for which he spends a year in a mental hospital. Awkward. She hasn’t seen him since.
Still, 16-year-old Buckley Harris is calling Olivia and asking her for help. And Olivia knows that Buckley only has her dad, because her mother – the saintly substitute teacher Molly Harris – had been murdered in a shooting spree by a troubled teenage boy whose father had denied his issues and done a lot of father-son bonding with guns. So down she goes to the police station, where she finds out that her ex is under suspicion for shooting that horrible father. Jack had means (they think), motive (definitely), and opportunity (absolutely, he was in the area when the shooting happened). It can’t be true, Olivia thinks. She knows him, too sensitive for his own good. Plus he tells a story that she thinks can be verified – he was meeting a sort-of blind date for a picnic.
But it turns out Jack’s story is pretty unbelievable. Then the blind date turns out to be an escort that somebody hired to lure Jack, and Olivia’s thoughts turn to “who would try to frame Jack?” There is one twist after another, and the reader lurches violently from “Jack is innocent!” to “Jack did it!” And I’d be okay with all this – the characters are pretty interesting, the pace is powerful with each new piece of info propelling the reader forward – except that around page 167, I realized who did it. And on page 277, Burke revealed it… and it’s not Jack. But he pleads guilty anyway to cover up for the real killer (bet you’ve got it figured out, too).
The epilogue is four years later, and the reader learns that Olivia visits Jack once a year on the anniversary of his guilty plea, to see if she can convince him to work with her to get his guilty plea set aside. And every year, he says no.
Would I read more Alafair Burke? Absolutely. Is The Ex going to take the Literary Lunchbox Edgar for Best Novel? As the Magic 8 ball says, “Outlook not so good.” Still, first reviewed so it gets top spot for now!
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel
- The Ex by Alafair Burke