Called to the Portland Fish Pier late one night to investigate a report of a body, Detective Sergeant Michael McCabe is confronted with a dead woman in the trunk of an abandoned car, frozen solid by the bitter Maine cold. The body is quickly identified as local attorney Lainie Goff, a woman with a past as mysterious as her future was ambitious.
Prior to her murder Goff had been on the fast track to becoming the youngest associate to make partner at the prestigious law firm where she worked, though her chances at making the grade relied as much on her secret affair with her married boss as her skill as a litigator. Yet, she also quietly worked pro bono for Sanctuary House, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping troubled teens.
Did someone in her cutthroat legal world have it in for her, or is there something sinister in her past that both led to her work with Sanctuary House and her death? Initially leads in the investigation seem as cold as the corpse. Then McCabe and his partner, Maggie Savage, get word that a young woman on Hart’s Island, just across from the pier, claims to have witnessed a murder.
Unfortunately the young woman, Abby Quinn, is a known schizophrenic with a history of reporting her outlandish hallucinations to the police. In fact, Abby’s claim of having witnessed a murder is initially ignored by the Hart’s Island police until news of the discovery of the body on the pier reaches them. Unfortunately, by that time four days have passed and Abby has disappeared. Now in order to solve the murder McCabe must first find the missing witness… before the killer does.
The Chill of Night strikes a great balance between the development of characters and the unfolding of the investigation. Hayman brings an attention to detail to the investigation that is often overlooked – or flat out gotten wrong – in crime fiction. For example, early on there is some question as to the legality of the search of the car trunk where the body was found. Knowing that could jeopardize any subsequent prosecution, McCabe makes sure to point out to the initial responding officer that during the more detailed search a small package of suspicious powder was found under the front seat and suggests that, perhaps, that’s what made the officer investigate the trunk. Feelings about the morality of McCabe suggesting the officer have a revisionist memory of events aside, it’s a nice attention to detail that adds a layer of believability to the procedural aspect of the story.
Likewise, Hayman’s character development is so understated you don’t initially realize just how well you are getting to know the players. He makes them so real there is no leap of faith or suspension of belief required to picture them as people you could actually interact with in your own life. Abby in particular is exquisitely presented. Far from being a caricature, Abby’s thoughts and internal struggles with her illness are presented with a frankness that is a refreshing treatment of a mentally ill character in a crime novel. In the book’s acknowledgments Hayman indicates that he did significant research on schizophrenia in his preparation for writing The Chill of Night and it shows. Abby, from whose point of view a portion of the story is told, is heartbreakingly real.
The Chill of Night is the second book in the Michael McCabe series, following The Cutting. You don’t have to have read The Cutting in order to enjoy The Chill of Night, but I can guarantee you’ll want to go back and pick it up if you haven’t. James Hayman is the real deal, and the Michael McCabe series is one to put on your “buy on release day” list.
The Chill of Night is available from Minotaur (ISBN: 978-0312532710).