Thursday, September 10, 2009

Witness to Myself by Seymour Shubin (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

"You don’t have to know if you killed her, he told himself. You've lived all these years, fifteen years, without knowing. And you've got a good life that you're going to destroy, you're only thirty, a lawyer, you have someone you love, and a new career, one where you can do so much good. You've never had it better. For God's sake turn around!" — from Witness to Myself

For the last fifteen years, an impulsive act has kept Alan Benning in fear of being discovered. Only he is not quite sure exactly of what he is guilty. Did he kill the young girl in the woods off the shore of the fictional Cape Cod town of South Minton, or didn't he? Not knowing is driving him crazy. Little does he know that trying to find out the truth will make him even more miserable.

I believe that this is the first time that Hard Case Crime has published a new work by an author from whom they could have just as easily published a reprint. Seymour Shubin (a rather milquetoasty name for a crime-fiction writer) has been in the psychological-suspense business since his debut novel, Anyone's My Name, first appeared on the bestseller lists in 1953.

He was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his novel, The Captain, in 1982, and his 1985 novel, Voices, focused on the phone-sex industry. (There is an interview with the author, from that year, online.) Shubin's work has also been selected for inclusion in critical surveys of the mystery genre (although he objects to the classification of his work in that way).

Shubin makes an interesting choice in Witness to Myself by telling Alan's story through his cousin, Colin. Finding out Colin's role in the story is just one of the many questions readers will be wanting answered. The primary effect this has, though, is a lack of certainty in Alan's lifespan, adding to the suspense.

Shubin skillfully carries his readers along, involving us deeply in Alan's story, and making this possible murderer an extremely sympathetic character. The conviction in Colin's voice is so strong that, many times, I had to remind myself that I was reading a crime novel, and not a non-fiction tome (Shubin has written in the true-crime field and it shows).

Witness to Myself has the feel of classic noir fiction but is set firmly in the present. Like any modern thirty-somethings, Shubin's characters feel completely comfortable using the Internet for research — in fact, they prefer it. Alan keeps the Cape Cod Breeze's Web site link on his desktop for easy access, and Colin instantly goes to Google when trying to find the meaning of a half-remembered phrase. This is the first book I've read that has folded modern technology so seamlessly within its storyline — even more surprising coming from an "old-timer" like Shubin.

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