Would you kill if someone you fancied asked you to? Or, would you be able to manipulate someone to do your bidding while you were double-crossing them? Would you be able to tell the truth if you saw a horrifying act of violence?
The story begins with a newspaper article. A talented graduate student, Rese Morris Goddard, is found dead on campus. There are no obvious signs of trauma and foul play is not suspected.
We meet her husband Lyle Goddard who, six months after her death, is confronted with an anonymous caller who accuses him of murder.
It is standard procedure that when someone dies, the authorities look at their home situation, partners past and present, place of work, etc. However, Rese’s death was a suicide. So why would anyone now after six months accuse Lyle of murder? What is their motive for the anonymous calls and, why would Lyle have killed Rese?
Shortly before she died, Rese had won a short story contest. As her heir, Lyle would benefit from that but the award money is just $10’000. Yes, it can do a lot of good but is it high enough a price to pay for murder? And, if Lyle was responsible, how did he kill Rese as he has an alibi and there were no signs of a struggle or trauma on Rese. Was there an accomplice?
In other words, there’s plenty for Rese’s sister Amanda to ponder. She knew her sister and suicide does not fit her character. Their mother Kathy doesn’t believe that Rese killed herself either. So, the women decide that a fresh pair of eyes should take a look at the case to see if a stone was left unturned. Enter private investigator Cass McKenzie.
Set in Virginia, the story unfolds quickly. We get to know Rese and find out that she was more complex than first imagined. But as Norris introduces more information, we need to ask ourselves whether it was Rese who was complex or, everyone around her. We meet faculty of the English Department, old friends, wives of lovers, and most important of all, we finally meet the real Rese.
It isn’t just McKenzie who is digging into Rese’s death. Owen’s Park Police is getting anonymous calls too that Rese would never have killed herself. Lieutenant Matt Linkous gets assigned the review of the investigation and from there on, the story races to its conclusion.
The book is very well written, has a good pace, and the chapters are well spaced. The characters are well-rounded and genuine in their emotions and reactions. I love it that we get to eat with all of them. So, one of the side-effects of reading this book is getting peckish.
The best part of the book is that inside the main story are several short stories and journal entrees from Rese. It sheds a light on her life, what she had endured, her emotional turmoil, and her decision to stand up for who she really is. The inclusion of a journal and short stories is a clever move by Norris. It changes the tone, the ambiance, and furthers the plotline in a very natural but darker pace.
K.H. Norris is a dear friend who, as her bio says, has been writing ever since her hands could hold a pencil. She has written several pieces of poetry and short stories. The Litmus Test is her first novel.
I have been privy to read her plays, attend writers conferences together, and we enjoy brunch on the patio. I know that she is working on more books so check her author page for the latest. Her blog is here. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Highly recommended reading. My other book reviews are here.