Laura Nelson, renowned heart surgeon, seems to have it all - she has five beautiful kids, and her husband is the co-anchor for the Tampa TV News. But soon her whole life is turned upside-down when she is asked to testify as a hostile witness in a malpractice suit against the hospital where she works, her husband has an affair with his co-anchor, Kim Connors, in their house, then Kim winds up dead and the murder weapon, a Colt .38, ends up with Laura’s fingerprints on it. It’s kind of hard to try to explain to the police that you’re trying to help the victim out and check for signs of life when you are the only one around and you have a motive to want the victim dead.
These are just a few of the problems that Laura Nelson has to overcome in Patricia Gussin’s novel, Twisted Justice, the follow-up to her debut novel, Shadow of Death, that introduced Laura and was a Thriller Award nominee for Best First Novel.
Twisted Justice does, as its title suggests, contain myriad twists, related both to the type of justice meted out and to the many left turns the plot takes throughout the novel. That’s generally a good thing; however, some of the twists here are convoluted, the resolution too pat and forced.
Steve Nelson, Laura’s husband, for example, eventually becomes one possible suspect in the murder of Kim, along with Laura and Cuban Mafia criminal Frank Santiago, who was Kim’s fiancee. He is also in fear of his life, believing that Santiago wants to kill him for having an affair with Kim. He takes his and Laura’s three boys and two girls with him to Michigan, ostensibly to visit his sick father and go on a hunting trip, without informing Laura, who is incarcerated at the time for the murder of Kim. He has taken almost all of the money - close to fifty grand – from the couple’s joint account, as well. How, then, can Laura afford the team of lawyers and private investigators needed to clear her name? Why, easily, once we learn that she has $200,000 in a money fund she hasn’t told Steve about.
Despicable is one apt description of Steve’s motivations and actions. He’d rather “believe” his wife committed the murder out of “jealousy” to explain why he’s running off with the kids than tell anyone that his real reasons are that he wants to get away from Santiago, that if Laura is the suspect, then Santiago might not be as interested in killing him, and that as long as Laura is going down for the murder, the cops won’t look too closely at the possibility that he is the killer instead of Laura or Santiago.
Who, then, is Kim Connors’ real killer? I won’t reveal that, but at least one detective, Detective Lopez, tells Steve to his face that he knows Steve did it. He’d rather get Santiago, though, since the criminal killed his partner years ago, so Lopez agrees not to reveal that Steve killed Kim if Steve cooperates with him to get Santiago. We, as readers, know some of Steve’s inner thoughts and reasoning because sometimes the story is told through his perspective. However, we never see, even after the confrontation, Steve admit to himself that he killed Kim. So, questions remain: Did Steve or Santiago kill Kim? Since the gun used to kill Kim belonged to one of Kim’s friends, a cocaine-using prostitute who inherited everything Kim owned after her death, could she be the real killer?
On top of these complications and aspects of the novel not resolved satisfactorily, while in Michigan, the youngest Nelson boy, Patrick, who has a congenital heart hole in his heart, has problems breathing when he exerts himself much. Steve takes him to a doctor, but the doctor doesn’t know details about Patrick’s medical history and the proper tests aren’t done. Eventaully, Patrick gets flown to Philadelphia to be operated on just in time to remove a tumor, and one of the people who operates on him is someone who Laura knew while in college. If only a path could be opened for them to develop any potential romantic attraction they might have for each other - but how could something like that happen without it seeming to set up? The answer is, at least for me, that it can’t.
Twisted Justice is entertaining, and it incorporates a lot of good things that kept me reading. In other words, it’s a page-turner that held my attention and made me involved in the characters and want to see what would happen to them. That gave me perhaps even more a sense that certain things needed to happen to get from point A to point Z, and that this would happen one way or the other. Of course, this is how all novels are written, more or less; the difficulty is in making the reader get lost in the story and not get to thinking about the mechanics of it, the unfolding of it. Still, Twisted Justice is a tale that will keep you reading late into the night.