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The Confession


The Confession

THE CONFESSION is a reverse whodunit. A violent attack takes place at the opening of the book, but the mystery --- the why of the incident --- isn’t revealed until near the very end. Author Jo Spain puts an interesting spin on a number of classic mystery genre themes, updating things here and there while alternating among three narrators, two of whom are quite unreliable and a third who unerringly, if slowly, moves toward the truth. The result is a story that you will want to simultaneously linger over and read quickly while you attempt to guess the motive.

The victim is Harry McNamara, a British version of Bernie Madoff with a couple of important differences. First off, Harry is a banker (not a stockbroker) with a taste for the best that life has to offer and who is not above skimming bank profits to pay for them. Secondly, when Harry is finally frogmarched into trial, he is not convicted. He and his wife, Julie, are quietly celebrating his close brush with the law when a man walks into their living room and bludgeons him within an inch of his life while Julie does nothing. The culprit, a fairly nondescript gentleman named JP Carney, turns himself in at a police station an hour later. He freely admits to the attack, but claims that it was done on impulse and he had no idea who his victim was. JP stubbornly sticks to his story and is ultimately confined to a treatment center.

"THE CONFESSION is a rare treat, a combination of a psychological thriller and a domestic drama with a bit of a police procedural thrown in."

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Alice Moody is assigned to investigate the crime. It is not lacking for puzzling elements, including its apparent randomness and the fact that Julie didn’t do anything to stop it. There is also a contradictory element to it. Julie insists that JP whispered something in Harry’s ear at one point during the attack, while JP maintains he did no such thing. Harry is in no position to confirm either account, and when things go from bad to worse for him, it becomes more important than ever for Alice to determine exactly what occurred on that fateful night.

The story switches off among the points of view of Julie, JP and Alice, moving from the past to the present for Julie and JP. We learn how Harry and Julie met and became a couple, even as Julie recalls in excruciating detail the highs and lows of the marriage. JP talks about his difficult childhood and the events that led directly and indirectly to him being in the McNamaras’ living room, doing what he did on the night in question. Alice must determine what possible connection JP could have had with Harry --- and perhaps Julie --- that would have led to the attack. JP and Julie each have a part of the key, but not the entire one. Everything fits together horrifically in the end, when, of course, it is too late for everyone but Alice, who may have the opportunity to see that justice is served.

THE CONFESSION is a rare treat, a combination of a psychological thriller and a domestic drama with a bit of a police procedural thrown in. Spain has a wonderful ear for cop shop dialogue and puts it on full display here as the well-named Alice Moody follows her dead-on instinct, which tells her that the whole truth is missing from the proceedings. Block out some time to finish this book because you won’t want to stop reading once you pick it up.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 28, 2018

The Confession
by Jo Spain