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A wrenching death-watch thriller
on November 14, 2003
Klavan, known for well-written, gritty, edge-of-your-seat crime thrillers, takes these elements to literary heights with "True Crime."
The story is not new. With only 18 hours to go before a convicted murderer is scheduled to die, a newspaper reporter, narrator Steve Everett, finds reason to believe the man is innocent. His minute-by-minute account alternates with gut-wrenching death-watch scenes from the convict's cell.
Everett is yanked out of his editor's wife's bed for this assignment - by the editor himself, who already has plenty of reason to despise cocky, cynical, philandering Everett. This time Everett knows that even his old friend and boss, Alan Mann, who shares his view that "issues are what we make up to give us an excuse to run good stories" - even Mann can't save his job this time.
Everett needs a good story. But the "human interest" interview about the condemned man's "feelings" isn't it. Digging into the background, getting the details of the convenience store-clerk's murder, he uncovers some minor unanswered questions, which lead to more questions.
Juggling the vengeful editor and his own fed-up, straight-laced wife, who's sure to leave him once this latest infidelity is out, it dawns on Everett that proving Beachum innocent could be the single answer to all his immediate problems.
Meanwhile Beachum is saying his last farewells to his wife and daughter. A devout Christian, he is determined to act calm, resigned and unafraid. "But it did make him terribly lonely. To have her here, to hold her, to want to tell her everything that was in his heart - and to jolly her along like this instead."
The tension mounts, page by page. Everett's discoveries are tantalizingly inconclusive, every leap forward is confronted by an obstruction, a setback, a reasonable explanation. And the scenes in Beachum's stark cell grow more and more painful to endure as the man wrestles with his inner fears, the shattered hopes of a life, his anguish, impatience and dread.
Everett is not a nice guy. But the reader remains aware that this is his book, the powerful and disturbing insight of the Beachum chapters as well as the wise-cracking, cynical chase. And while we identify with Beachum's awful plight, we turn away from his unbearable pain, then turn the page to see what happens next.
Klavan has written a rivetting story which presents a devastating portrait of the real cruelties of capital punishment, not that it will change any minds.