As a novice writer, Ann Rule worked beside serial killer Ted Bundy for months before his identity as a mass murderer was unmasked. Rule broke into the literary big time with The Stranger Beside Me
, exposing the hidden side of the man she thought she knew. But Rule did more than whet a national appetite for true crime stories with her ground-breaking book. She also gave Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, the author of four critically acclaimed novels, a model for Denise Burke, the heroine of this unusually well-written story of sex, crime, and politics.
Burke is equally at ease in Washington, D.C., where her husband is Bill Clinton's adviser on domestic affairs and she and Hillary trade wardrobe tips on what to wear to Parent's Day at Sitwell Friends School (hint: You can't go wrong with a suit), and in New Caxton, Rhode Island, where Eddie Baines was tried and found guilty for a gruesome triple slaying he may not have committed. It's not the kind of crime Burke usually writes about--for one thing, it doesn't have a hero, and every good true crime book needs one. But Owen Hall, Burke's lover and New Claxton's congressman, has a personal interest in seeing the truth come out about the murders, so she starts investigating. The truth turns out to be much more horrifying than either Burke or the congressman expected, and it keeps readers turning the pages to see the effect it has on the town, its founding family and other inhabitants, and Burke's own life. What sets An American Killing apart from other books in the genre is Smith's talent for characterization--not only the major figures in the novel, but the minor ones, too, especially Poppy, the head of the FBI crime lab and Burke's best friend; Nick Burke, Burke's husband; Rosie Owzciak, the town librarian; and New Caxton itself, a dying town whose fortunes are tied to those of Owen Hall and his brother Charles. This is a smart, sexy, completely engrossing novel that should win its author the wide commercial acceptance that her previous novels, too, deserve. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Smith's four literary novels, which include The Book of Phoebe and Masters of Illusion, may be surprised by her segue into the suspense genre, but the good news is that she succeeds admirably in this lively and absorbing novel. Her heroine, Denise Burke, a bestselling writer of true crime books, is mentally seduced by charismatic Congressman Owen Hall at a Literary Guild bash (one of many references to publishing manners and mores) into writing about a triple murder in Owen's home town of New Caxton, R.I., for which Eddie Baines, a black former local sports star, was convicted in a travesty trial. As Denise begins to investigate the murder of the Montevallo family, physical seduction and a rapturous love affair with Owen quickly follow. Denise, who is enduring a lackluster marriage to Nick Burke, a top man in the Clinton administration, soon is rocketing back and forth between D.C. and New Caxton, where she uncovers a pattern of chicanery and deception that involves the entire community. When Owen does a sudden about-face and pleads with her to abandon the book, Denise refuses and finds herself in peril. Among the novel's attractions are Smith's nimble use of Washington gossip and her grasp of forensic details. Notable also is her astute portrayal of an economically depressed town where racism and ethnic bias among Poles, Italians and blacks did not surface until jobs became scarce (members of New Caxton's patrician population, to which Hall's family belongs, are referred to by the others as "Americans"). Fueled by "pathologically cynical" narrator Denise's sarcastic quips, the plot zips along at a brisk pace and stumbles only toward the end, when Smith unveils a credibility-stretching surfeit of villains and motives in untangling the web of crimes and suspects. Meanwhile, Smith's witty, intelligent take on the links between high-level politics and sophisticated crime has the ring of truth and the zest of a real page-turner. Agent, Aaron Priest Agency; 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; BOMC selection; audio to Brilliance; author tour; foreign rights sold in Germany, U.K. and the Netherlands.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.