Jackson Kinley, the protagonist of Evidence of Blood, is a true-crime writer. His career has brought him close to unimaginable horrors: rapists and murderers and people who torture others for pleasure. Kinley (as he is most often called) seems somehow immune to these horrors. Perhaps it’s his IQ, which is reportedly off the charts. Perhaps it’s his own childhood – he was raised by his grandmother in backwater Sequoyah, Georgia. Whatever the reason, Kinley is able to face the dark deeds of the world’s most reprehensible criminals without flinching.
His armor is breached, however, when he gets the call that his childhood friend, Ray Tindall, has been found dead. He returns to Sequoyah and learns that Ray was trying to uncover the truth about a murder which had occurred many years before.
Thomas H. Cook – as those of you who are regular readers here already know – is my favourite mystery writer. True, I am not a mystery scholar by any stretch, but an accidental discovery of his book Breakheart Hill several years ago has turned me into a fan and I have read several of his books (and I am thrilled to know there are more waiting to be read.)
Cook is particularly adept at creating nuanced characters and Kinley is no exception. Kinley’s past is deeply rooted in Sequoyah, but even he is unaware of just how deep those roots go. He can’t help himself – he’s an investigator and the shocking death of his oldest (and perhaps only) friend, has him sifting through the past. Ray, it turns out, was looking into the mysterious disappearance of Ellie Dinker, a sixteen year old whose bloody dress was found on a tree branch in 1954. A man was sentenced to death for that crime and Ray was trying to prove his innocence.
Like all of Cook’s novels, the mystery will keep you guessing. I tried out several potential (and I thought entirely plausible) solutions and was still surprised at the end of the book. I like the way Cook writes; his are literary mysteries. I feel like the craft of writing is just as important to him as telling a cracking good story – which he does. You keep turning those pages.
As Kinley follows Ray’s paper trail, interviews the players who are still alive and recalls childhood memories, he slowly begins to understand the implication of Ray’s words to him at one of their final meetings: “It’s better to know, don’t you think, Kinley? No matter what the cost?”
If you like well-written mysteries, you really can’t beat Cook.