In a plot modeled on “The Innocence Project,” Harvey builds a mystery with three students—Sarah Gold, Ian Joyce and Jake Havens—signed up for a seminar at Chicago’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. Indicating a stack of potential cases for them to choose for their semester’s study, Professor Judy Zombrowski (she prefers to be called simply “Z”) is reluctant to offer her approval when Jake declares that he has already come prepared with a particular case: the murder of ten-year-old Skylar Wingate. The man convicted of killing Wingate, James Harrison, has been killed in prison, so Z doesn’t see the relevance of that choice.
Citing his anonymous receipt of material pertinent to the murder, Jake is prepared to make his case to the others, bringing along his accumulated files to add to whatever else the three are able to discover before they begin. In agreement in spite of Z’s lack of enthusiasm, the trio gather in a local bar to make plans, which include a visit to the scene of the Skylar’s death that night. They also agree not to share everything with the professor, as she has requested, deciding it will be more impressive to hand her irrefutable evidence of their work together.
In their first foray to the site of Skylar’s murder, the students not only discover another body in a nearby cave, but their activities are witnessed by an unidentified stranger, one who appears more frequently as the plot evolves, creating yet another layer of mystery. Sneaking away from the scene as the police arrive, Jake, Ian and Sarah have no idea how they will be pulled into an investigation that will have dire consequences for each of them, intending only to provide justice for the wrongfully accused.
Before long, both Ian and Jake are the focus of intense scrutiny by authorities. Files Ian has gotten legally are confiscated by two menacing detective in an unmarked vehicle, clearly warning him to curtail his activities on the case. The harassment accelerates, Ian’s house searched without a warrant. Both young men realizing they are treading dangerous ground as they seek resources beyond the reach of the department. While Jake and Ian are certain they have actually uncovered a long line of crimes related to the incarceration and death of James Harrison, activities that have put all three students in danger, there is also the question of the murders themselves. Who is the killer? And how do they stop him?
Here Harvey drops the thread of what might have been a tight thriller. The discrepancies of his plot offer exciting reading but sow doubt as to what is fact and what is distraction to cover the real purpose of the novel. He leaves not-so-subtle hints along the way—the unshared pasts of Jake and Ian, the jealousy between two young men over a woman, family histories—that serve to undermine the continuity of the story. Eventually the final element comes to light—and it is impressive—but the lack of cohesion in the two plotlines is jarring, the blatant violence and intimidation of one plot and the secretive, stealthy malevolence of the other. It seems as though the project and all its complications were created as a device, embellished for color rather than substance until the final revelation. I feel as though I have read two novels with overlapping characters, two stories worlds apart in relation to the protagonists and their interactions.