There’s enough darkness following Adam Lee, the main character in Grant Jerkins’ debut novel A Very Simple Crime, to fuel a Thanksgiving sized feast.
The book opens with Adam on trial for the murder of his wife, Rachel. As we learn through Adam’s narrated flashback to the events that brought him to this point in his life, it seems that darkness has followed him like a specter from the time his parents were killed in a car accident when he was a child.
He grows up only to marry a woman whom turns out to be seriously mentally disturbed, and with her has a son, Albert, who is born severely developmentally disabled. Though he doesn’t grow much mentally, Albert does grow to be a very physically large young man, one prone to violent outbursts. After nearly killing his mother during a confrontation Albert is finally institutionalized.
Trying to get some breathing space from his suffocating home life, Adam begins having an affair with one of Albert’s attendants at the institution. To occupy his wife while he sneaks away with his mistress for the weekend Adam brings Albert home from the institution for a visit. Upon his return home from the tryst, however, he finds Rachel dead and Albert nearly nearly catatonic, rocking back and forth in a corner of the room.
With Albert the only one present, and having a history of violence against his mother, the police conduct a perfunctory investigation; it’s clear to them what happened. The setup and majority of the backstory established, it’s at this point A Very Simple Crime turns from pure Southern Gothic into a legal thriller that just happens to be set in the South. And, if possible, it gets even darker.
Assistant Prosecutor Leo Hewitt is a man with some hefty baggage of his own. Once the seeming heir apparent to the District Attorney’s chair, his botching of a high profile case has delegated him to paper pushing and occasional appearances in traffic court. Seeing the Rachel Lee murder case as his last shot at redemption, Leo elbows his way into the investigation and convinces his superiors Albert isn’t the one they should be looking at, Adam is.
Back where we started, with Adam on trial, finds Adam in the company of the one bright spot in his life, his older brother Monty. Handsome and charming, Monty also happens to be a successful defense attorney, and Adam is counting on the big brother he’s looked up to and idolized his whole life to get him clear of the murder charges he’s up against.
As the trial unfolds, Adam’s stoic, matter-of-fact narration of the burdens he carries initially paints him as a noble man trying to make the best of a crappy lot in life. As the story progresses, however, it becomes increasingly apparent that Adam’s dispassionate demeanor is in fact a direct reflection of his soul, cold and empty. Ah, but does that necessarily mean he’s a killer?
Author Grant Jerkins has crafted a masterfully Hitchcockian story in A Very Simple Crime. Every time you think you know where things are headed and what a character is about, Jerkins throws in another twist that leaves you shaking your head at its diabolical cleverness. This is not, however, a book for the faint of heart or those easily offended. There are very graphic descriptions of both sex and violence, and virtually every character in the book is hiding something, working some angle, or trying to manipulate the people around them.
Jerkins’ writing is both brilliant and brutal in its take no prisoners look at the spectacularly dysfunctional Lee family. Every layer of their apparent normalcy is mercilessly peeled back to reveal the deeply damaged and delusional personalities hiding, sometimes not so deeply, underneath. These are not pretty people, but they are endlessly fascinating. A Very Simple Crime is a very impressive debut. Grant Jerkins has serious skills, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t jump on board his bandwagon and get a comfy seat now because there’s going to be standing room only soon.
A Very Simple Crime is available from Berkley (ISBN: 978-0425238301).