Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
Premeditated Murder, by Ed Gaffney
A courtroom drama, Premeditated Murder was Mr Gaffney’s debut novel. To date, he only has four books out (and was nominated for the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for his fourth book, Enemy Combatant). This book introduces to the readers two wonderful characters, lawyers Zack Wilson and Terry Tallach.
Here is the back cover blurb:
In a courtroom, everyone is entitled to the best defense. But in this trial, it will have to be the best defense… ever.
In a New England courtroom, two young defense lawyers face a trial they cannot win. For attorneys Zack Wilson and Terry Tallach, partners and best friends, it seems an open and shut case. Their client confessed to a horrific multiple homicide-and Zack and Terry have only one hope: to spare him from the death penalty. But even that is a long shot… until the case takes a sudden, strange turn.
The two lawyers may have stumbled on a loophole: their client had a secret motive for his indefensible act-a motive that might even free him if Zach and Terry can pull off an ingenious defense.
But as the media descend on a quiet Massachusetts town, and as Zack and Terry fight to save their client’s life, a surprise witness turns the trial into something no one could have predicted. Because only he can pull all the pieces of an astounding puzzle together-and expose a conspiracy that is more shocking, far-reaching, and treacherous than anyone could guess…
While the central plot is pretty accurately described in the blurb, the book has many layers, both in plotting and characterization. A couple of the secondary threads eventually intersect with the main storyline, providing the basis for the final twist during the trial. A lot of the tension in the novel stems from that main, immediately visible thread, but the heart pounding bits come from one or two of the other, not so evident threads.
Some of the secondary story lines are known to the reader pretty much from the beginning, but others are handled in such a way as to surprise both characters and readers as they unfold-and a couple of times, I wasn’t sure which were which. And that, I would say, is the mark of an excellent thriller. Even better, this structure held up very well on a second reading, which is not always the case for me with a debut novel.
Along with Zack and Terry, we are introduced to a wide range of characters. From Matt Ferguson, President of the United States; to judge Richard (aka Dick *ahem*) Cottonwood; the accused, Cal Thompkins; and assorted other secondary characters, including Zack’s adopted son, Justin. It is a testament to Mr Gaffney’s talent that each one of them, even those who appear in one page out of three hundred plus, come across as real people.
As an example, here’s this snapshot of a state trooper: “He was about twenty-six years old but was trying to sound like he was as bored as a fifteen-year veteran. Great. I’ve heard it all before, so don’t even bother explaining what’s going on. We’ll take it from here.” Tell me, who hasn’t come across this attitude, this young’un, at least once? Perfect.
Terry is immediately appealing, funny and quirky. In contrast, it is tempting to think of Zack as his ‘straight man’. Appearances of course are deceiving. Terry is the clown of the two, but he is also often capable of deep insights-I’m thinking here of a conversation he has with Zack’s father during a birthday party. Zack, for his part, seems to be one of those “what you see is what you get” kind of people, until one realizes that he keeps a lot of himself hidden.
The narrative is alternatively funny and heart wrenching, as the different actors reflect on their rôles in this very strange and convoluted play. I found the pacing to be nearly flawless, with the slower scenes that provide character introspection and motivation, interspersed with the “action shots” in a way that worked to keep the tension growing until the end.
I really enjoyed Premeditated Murder, and am looking forward to reading his other three novels. 8.50 out of 10.