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Don’t Believe It by Charlie Donlea

This was a really original take on a crime novel that, when I first began reading, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it but as the story progressed, I was really hooked. Basically, this is the tale of TV documentary producer, Sidney Ryan, who is making a promising career out of filming “true crime” series – two of which have exonerated formerly convicted criminals after producing evidence that investigators overlooked.

When the novel opens, Sidney is in St Lucia, looking into a ten-year old case involving Grace Sebold, a promising medical student who was arrested and convicted for the murder of her boyfriend, Julian, on the island a decade earlier. Grace and one of her closest friends have written to Sidney for years, begging her to prove Grace’s innocence. Their letters and the evidence Sidney starts to uncover prove compelling. It appears that the St Lucian authorities were keen to convict someone and thus minimize the damage to tourism a murder could potentially wreak. Grace, Sidney begins to believe, was a victim of island politics as opposed to being a perpetrator.

Able to see a convincing real-time investigation and series, Sidney pitches her idea to the network who are sold. As the weeks pass and each episode is screened, revealing what the team discovered that week, ratings soar and Sidney becomes the darling of the network. But when a member of the growing audience introduces an element of doubt into what seems a forgone conclusion, the series and Sidney’s confidence in her project and the subject of it, is thrown into serious doubt.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the angle of the investigation, the insights into television networks, documentaries and the politicking that occurs in the “back rooms” and who producers and how the stars of shows are feted. The plot itself is quite tight and the investigation really interesting and convincing. The forensics are laid out and the mistakes made in the initial investigation realistically explained and the actual reasons to rethink them justified.

However, I only gave it three stars because for all that, and even though the revelation at the end makes sense, it’s the way it’s ultimately rushed that leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction. After spending so much of the book proving how an investigation got it so wrong and how even ten years on, more sophisticated forensics can reveal the killer and weapon etc (or can it?), I found it highly implausible that yet again, human stupidity, assumptions and clearly badly-done forensics allow a miscarriage of justice. It seemed to undermine the entire intention of the book – or perhaps that was the point. That killers still get away with it because humans make judgements about people and their motives. I am not sure. Anyhow, I still enjoyed the book overall and will certainly read another Donlea.



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