A Quick, Deadly Read

A Very Simple Crime isn’t. It’s rather complicated really. Once you find how who did what to whom and why. But that’s all for the end, isn’t it. The beginning starts simple and stays that way for a while. Or, at least it’s meant to make you think it’s simple. But as the brilliant crime author, Jim Thompson, once reminded us. Nothing is as it seems.

Adam is on trial for the murder of his wife. He’s being defended by his brother, Monty. The brothers are polar opposites. Adam is quiet, reserved, appealing in an intelligent way. Monty is brash, good looking, appealing in a visceral way. Adam is the younger brother who’s always looked up to his older sibling, Now he’s depending on him to literally save his life. But maybe he always has. Maybe.

It’s really Adam’s story. The story of a good man in a bad situation. His wife is a certifiable nut job. Intense, relentless, clinging as one of those malevolent vines that stab you with its thorns every time you try to rest free from it. She loves her husband. But it’s a love that smothers him. A love that imprisons him. And to make matters worse, as if they needed to be, a son is born to them who is found to be insane. Criminally so. A danger to himself and others. He’s committed to an institution. His incarceration only exacerbates his mother’s mental problems. Adam’s situation worsens.

Eventually, Adam’s wife is found dead. Her scull crushed by a heavy crystal ashtray. The plot has been constructed effectively enough so that the reader is not exactly sure who did it. The deranged son? The cheating husband? Yes, Adam seeks respite in the arms of another, and eventually wishes he hadn’t. Someone else? There’s always the specter of someone else, isn’t there? It seems unlikely based on what we’ve been told. You see, Adam is telling the story. Yes, it seems unlikely. But as noted earlier, nothing is as it seems.

Midway into the novel we’re introduced to Leo, a disgraced ex-public prosecutor who will become the thorn in the side of both brothers. Attempting to get back in the good graces of the department he embarrassed years before (though for all the right reasons, we learn) he “Colombo’s” his way through the facts of the case in a way that would make Peter Falk proud. And in the best tradition of the genre, he plays a key role in the novel’s surprise ending.

Grant Jerkins, the author, has fashioned a compelling page turner. Made more so by the fact that most chapters are under five pages. A technique many writers and editors have adopted for pace purposes, I assume. It makes the reader feel like he’s flying through the story. That’s why it’s a bit disconcerting then, when Jerkins interrupts the tale to fill in “back-story” on characters who are only marginally involved in the tale. Such diversions feel like padding. Perhaps because they are.

Still, A Very Simple Crime makes for a very fast and entertaining read. It’s Jerkings first published novel and it gives promise as well as pleasure. The Fiction Fortune Hunter suggests you seek it out. If for no other reason than to find out if the husband, who continually professes his love for his wife, actually killed her.

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