Joan Brady, the only American author to ever win the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, wrote one of my all-time favorite novels Theory of War. I had the good fortune to stumble upon Theory of War on the remainder table at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco well over 20 years ago, long before there were such things as book blogs. Ever since then, I’ve looked for more by her but never found any. I concluded she was a one-book-wonder, because Theory of War truly is a wonder. But last year her name started popping up on the blogs I read. It turns out she has been writing, slowly but steadily, since Theory of War found its way into my hands. She has moved to England, run into some trouble with her local council which took up much of her time, had a difficult bout of ill health which took up more time and started writing mystery thrillers to pay the bills. Her name made it into the book blogs because there was some controversy over whether or not she said mystery novels were easier to write than literary novels. She says she did not.
Theory of War is a complicated novel, both in subject matter and style. The story of a white boy sold into slavery in the American west at the end of the 19th century, it uses multiple narrators to describe how familial violence can affect several generations of one family. Ms. Brady demonstrated mastery of the writer’s craft in Theory of War and did not put her tools away when she turned to writing mystery/thrillers. Bleedout is a very literary thriller.
Bleedout has two narratives. The first is narrated by Hugh Freyl, successful lawyer, blind man, murder victim. Like the narrator in a film noir movie he tells the reader how he came to be killed, we suspect by the young man David Marion whom he once fought to have released from prison. The second narrative is the third person account of how David investigates the murder he is accused of in order to find the real killer. The book goes back and forth between the two building tension as each narrative moves towards its own climax.
Hugh tells us how he and his assistant Stephanie fought for years to find the truth behind David’s crime and the punishment he received. David, the product of many bad foster homes, ended up in prison convicted of beating his foster father and brother to death in the garage where they all worked. But was the then sixteen-year-old David forced to confess by abusive police officers. Why did he do what he did? Why did he never try to appeal his sentence? We know at the outset that Hugh and Stephanie were able to win David’s release from prison, but we don’t know if this was a fatal mistake, one that led to Hugh’s own murder.
David is the dispassionate hero of his own narrative. Once his alibi for Hugh’s murder is established, Hugh’s mother hires him to find the real killers. She does not think he is some sort of undiscovered great talent as a detective, but she believes he has it in him to kill her son’s murderers once he’s found them. That’s all she really wants. She does not know that David’s alibi is phoney, either. David soon finds that all was not what it seemed to be at Hugh’s law firm. Readers of noirish detective thrillers expect the plot to become more and more complicated before the end is reached and it certainly does here. The corruption going on at Hugh’s firm reaches into the police department, the governor’s mansion, the Supreme Court, and to one presidential candidate.
I’ll not give away the ending expect to say that most murder victims are killed by someone they know. The ending really should not have been the surprise it was.
Happily for me, Joan Brady has several other novels, some mysteries one not, that I’ve yet to get my hands on. Hopefully, now that her health has improved and the difficulties with the local council have been settled, she will write many more.
In the years since I first published this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B, back in 2009, I have completely forgotten this book. My review does make me think I would like it, and I know I loved Theory of War, so maybe once the TBR Double Dare is over a trip to the library is in order.