A Very Simple Crime, by Grant Jerkins

by Rebeca on December 20, 2010

A Very Simple Crime
By Grant Jerkins
Berkley Prime Crime Paperback Original
264 pages
List Price $14.00; Amazon Price: $11.20

Kick off your holiday reading with Grant Jerkins’ hypnotic debut novel A Very Simple Crime–a whodunit worthy of Hitchcock–that will give you chills, and keep you guessing until the very last page.

Narrated by Adam Lee, A Very Simple Crime opens with him on trial for the murder of his disturbed wife Rachel. His beloved, older brother Monty, a charismatic attorney, takes on Adam’s case and asks him point blank whether he killed his wife. Adam quietly responds, “No, I loved my wife.” The answer is short and simple, but Jerkins’ story is far more complicated.

A Very Simple Crime is a gloomy and disturbing tale that grabs readers’ attention by way of Adam’s calm, and cold voice. Early on we discover that both Monty and Adam have been shaped by a mysterious event that occurred one summer when they were boys. Since that time, this emotional wound has been festering, waiting to erupt. Jerkins leaves readers guessing about the event, and doesn’t reveal it until near the story’s conclusion, but subtle hints are dropped at its wrongness and the psychological hold it has on Adam as he describes his relationship with the unstable Rachel and his mentally handicapped son Albert.

Prone to violent outbursts, Albert attacks his mother with a crystal ashtray that lands her in the hospital. Not able to control Albert, who is fourteen years-old, but with the mind of a five year-old, Adam and Rachel send the teenaged boy to an institution for the mentally disabled. This action further disintegrates Rachel’s emotional health now that she has no one to focus her energies. As time passes, Rachel becomes more unhinged and during one weekend to placate his wife, Adam brings Albert for a visit while he goes on a secret lovers’ tryst with a young nurse he met at Albert’s hospital.  When Adam returns, he finds Rachel with her skull bashed in by Albert’s weapon of choice–a crystal ashtray.  Next to her is Albert covered in blood, rocking back and forth, and repeating over and over, “Albert did bad wrong, Albert did bad wrong.”

The evidence all points to the mentally challenged young man given his previous violent history, and it appears to be an open and shut case. That’s until Lew Hewitt enters the scene in the novel’s second part where the narrative shifts and is told in the third person. Once holding the position of Assistant District Attorney, Hewitt has fallen from grace after a botched up murder investigation that let a notorious child killer go free. Now demoted to working in a dingy cubicle and dealing with minor traffic court cases, Hewitt is convinced that Albert did not commit the crime. He sees this case as his chance to redeem himself with the District Attorney, and begs his replacement to let him investigate the crime. As Hewitt uncovers leads and questions Adam’s lover, the evidence seems to point more and more to Adam, until Hewitt stumbles upon a major twist and starts to question his own findings.

Jerkins clever and tight plot twists keep you riveted to the story and at every page turn there’s the question of Adam’s innocence or guilt. However, it’s the deep psychological profiles the make A Very Simple Crime an engrossing read. Very early on in the book when Adam first meets Rachel, we see the red flags waving wildly in his face that Rachel is terribly sick. But as Adam notes that in spite of the signs, he was attracted to her mental illness and that “darkness is drawn to darkness.”

This darkness permeates throughout the entire story, and is not for the faint of heart. There are scenes that are violent and will make you shudder, but what makes A Very Simple Crime so intriguing is Jerkins finesse and style with characterization; he doesn’t dilute his characters’ personalities with redeeming traits or actions. Each one–from the hopeless Albert to the charming Monty–has a fatal weakness that eventually will doom them.  A Very Simple Crime is far from simple–it’s a murder mystery, a gripping legal thriller, and a complex study of the flawed human psyche, and one hell of a read that will stay with you for a very long time.

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