Heart of a Killer by David Rosenfelt
Let’s start off with the headline. Heart of a Killer by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, 2012) is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in the last twelve months. Take a moment to imagine I went online and deep-mined the various Thesaurus sites for all the synonyms that would extoll the virtues of a book and listed them here. Except, of course, that’s pure salesman’s puff. No matter how many ways I might try to say this is a very good book, it would be meaningless without the whys and wherefores. You need the facts.
Heart of a Killer is another thoroughbred from the stables where David Rosenfelt works as the trainer. He’s had this one in secret training for the last few months, getting it ready to jump out of the electric starting gate at such a speed, none of the other literary horses will be able to catch it. In terms of genre, this is a hybrid, combining a legal with a techno-thriller theme. As the Americans would say, the legal issue is a doozie. As I advance into old age, I’ve been following the development of the case law on body autonomy and death with dignity with an obvious personal interest. Should disease cause serious problems, it would be a relief if I could gently put an end to my life. Selfishly, it would avoid not just any personal pain, but also the burden of others having to watch my suffering. A small number of countries around the world are supportive of the desire to achieve a “good” death. The majority retain laws penalising not only those who attempt suicide, but also attaching liability to those who assist a successful suicide.
David Rosenfelt takes this issue to the next level and one, I confess, that had not occurred to me. Put simply, a daughter develops a serious heart complaint. Only a transplant can save her. Should the otherwise healthy mother be allowed to act as the donor? To act as a further complication, six years before the need becomes pressing, the mother admitted to the murder of her husband. In a land that continues to allow capital punishment, she avoided the death penalty and languishes in jail. Morally, this might change our view of her proposed self-sacrifice but, as the law stands, the state cannot facilitate her death, no matter what the politics of the day might say. Enter our legal hero, the underachieving Jamie Wagner, who has an impressive academic record, but is on a fast-track to obscurity in a top firm of attorneys. He’s rescued by three people. A senior partner instructs him to take on our prisoner’s case pro bono and his parents disapprove, insisting he withdraw. Whereas he would normally continue on his melancholic downward spiral, there’s an essential perversity when it comes to his parents’ wishes. This means he’s thoroughly engaged when he goes to the prison even though, legally, he doesn’t have a prayer. So his Plan B is to get her out of jail. Not the easiest of tasks. But there’s a parole hearing due and, if he could prove her innocent, she would be released pending an appeal against conviction. Enter Jonathan Novack who was the lead detective at the time of the arrest.
The techno element of the thriller is one we would all prefer to think is science fiction, but the reality is rather more real than most believe. Everyone knows about the dark arts of hacking at a theoretical level, but we carefully put a ring-fence around our fears. We can sleep easy in our beds when we think only our privacy is at risk. It’s inconvenient if someone steals our credit card details but we can recover from this. If there’s an attack on critical infrastructure, say the power grid, this could cause deaths, disrupt cities, and take a long time to repair. Needless to say, the investigation triggered by Wagner leads Novack to start looking at some computer frauds. This proves to be a Pandora’s Box particularly when it becomes obvious identities can be so easily manipulated once access to databases has been established. Except, of course, hackers don’t always stop at the theft of data when security systems are often so poorly designed. These villains can sit undetected inside computers for months if not years, learning how every aspect of the business and physical processes are controlled.
The structure of the book gives Wagner a first-person voice with multiple points of view in short chapters covering all the other players. It’s a very dynamic format, driving the story forward as the action rapidly escalates. I was hooked and swept through at a gallop. On the way, David Rosenfelt reveals a sly sense of humour and the occasional smile encourages us to keep up the pace. I’m not sure I’m convinced by our hero’s romantic interest in his client. We all know it can’t go anywhere. She’s either staying put in jail or lies dead to save her daughter. I think he would probably be less involved but, at my age, I know little about the young. Perhaps they really are this impractical in matters of the heart (sic). Nevertheless, put all this together and you arrive breathless at the end, collecting the prize money in the winner’s enclosure and retiring to he nearest bar to open a bottle of champagne. Read Heart of a Killer or miss out!
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.