CHARLIE DONLEA: DON’T BELIEVE IT (2018)/THE SUICIDE HOUSE (2020)
Charlie Donlea is one of those authors who seems to slip under the radar a bit. Which is a shame, as his books are outstandingly good. In this post I look back to one of his releases from a couple of years ago and look forward to his 2020 novel, The Suicide House.
Don’t Believe It was released in 2018 and was a good follow-up to Donlea’s second novel The Girl Who Was Taken, which was one of my favourite crime books of 2017.
Donlea seems to specialise in ‘cold cases’ and the public’s fascination with true crime and in Don’t Believe It the story revolves around both.
In 2007 Grace Sebold was arrested and convicted of the murder of her boyfriend whilst in St. Lucia. During her ten years in jail Grace has always protested her innocence and now she has attracted the attention of up-and-coming television producer Sidney Ryan, who is making a real-time documentary about Grace’s case called ‘The Girl of Sugar Beach.’ Each of the ten episodes will be screened as Sidney investigates: “the audience will discover what I discover as I discover it.”
It is a bold concept and the opening episodes enjoy good audiences, but as Sidney investigates, she quickly realises that there is more to the Grace Sebold story than the court case revealed. As she edges to the real heart of the crime, she comes to realise that telling the truth may threaten her new-found fame, her career and even her life.
Don’t Believe It is a meticulously plotted novel, with Donlea using a variety of devices to tell the story, including shifting viewpoints, interviews, extracts from the documentary and jury deliberations. It all unfolds with clockwork precision, as the various elements of the original case are revealed and the contradictory new evidence introduced.
Clues and ‘red herrings’ are skillfully laid and Donlea adds to the suspense by introducing interesting sub-plots about rivalries at the television network and a mysterious old man at a hospital. You know that they are going to be important to the resolution, but you just don’t know how or when.
In the closing sections of the book the surprises come quick and fast, and are sometimes jolting in their impact. The ending is logical, but very surprising and some of Donlea’s clever acts of misdirection are only revealed in the closing pages.
Although there is not a lot of action or violence, the pace is very quick and the book readily wraps the reader in its thrall. It is a very difficult novel to put down and is easily read in a couple of sessions.
On the negative side, the characterisations could be a little richer, but this is only a quibble and overall it is a terrific read.
Four and a half stars out of five!
Donlea’s release in 2019, The Woman In Darkness (Some Choose Darkness in the US), introduced forensic reconstructionist Rory Moore who sheds light on cold-cases by piecing together details that others fail to see. Beset by her own personal problems, including a dislike of human contact, Rory is a troubled and interesting character, who had to deal with a string of surprises from her father’s past in The Woman In Darkness:
In 2020 Donlea is bringing back Rory and her psychologist partner, Lane Phillips. In The Suicide House the pair journey to Indiana’s elite Westmont Preparatory High School. One year ago, two of the school’s students were killed in a grisly slaughter in the woods bordering the school. The case has since become the focus of a hit podcast, ‘The Suicide House’. Though a teacher was convicted of the murders, mysteries about the night still remain, including why so many students keep returning to the site of the killings to commit suicide. Rory and Lane propose to recreate the night of the killings for the podcast, so as to find the answers that have eluded the police and the community. Some secrets, however, are best left uncovered.
I am really looking to this book, which is released in late July 2020. If Donlea’s previous books are anything to go by, it is going to be a well-plotted and extremely clever mystery. Look out for it!
The Suicide House will be released in Australia in August 2020 by Penguin Random House.