Written by Alafair Burke — The title All Day and a Night refers to prison slang for a sentence of life without parole – precisely the sentence given to Anthony Amaro almost 21 years ago for the murder of six women. Five murders were in upstate New York, in the small town of Utica, with Amaro only moving to the city itself for his final slaying. He was caught by the NYPD just when the state legislature had voted to return to the death penalty. Both sides cut a bargain preventing his execution. He pleaded guilty to the final murder accepting life without parole, and the District Attorney won a quick conviction avoiding a costly trial
Amaro’s victims were all prostitutes and all had limbs broken postmortem, a detail never leaked to the press. In the present day, New York’s incumbent DA, up for re-election soon, now has reason to question Amaro’s guilt. He has received an anonymous letter questioning the verdict, and a female psychotherapist has just been murdered at her practice with her body disfigured in the same way. Conscious of his elected position and public concerns about law enforcement corruption, and badgered by Linda Moreland, a celebrity lawyer Amaro has hired to represent him, the DA appoints a new team to review the evidence. It will be headed up by ambitious Assistant DA Max Donovan and two NYPD detectives of his choice. Donovan decides to pick the best available – Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan – which immediately causes problems since he and Hatcher are in a relationship.
Meanwhile, Moreland catches the team off-balance in court. She is able to cast doubt on the retired detective who took Amaro’s confession and has DNA evidence to suggest somebody else murdered the New York victim. The judge gives the team just three days to convince her Amaro should stay in prison, and in practice that will mean finding the killer of the most recent victim. When they fail, Amaro is sprung and everybody converges on Utica. Amaro is sequestered in an out of the way motel, with Moreland aware that one tactic the cops can try is to charge him with one of the original murders he was never tried for. Hatcher and Rogan are sent down to help locate him, and at the same time check up on how the Utica police handled the case all those years ago. Moreland has hired a promising young lawyer, Carrie Black, to assist her. Carrie is in fact the half-sister of one of the victims, and has been seduced by the idea of finding out what really happened.
My gosh, this is a difficult book to follow. Burke is a professor of criminal law and writes with authority about the legal proceedings, and is especially good with the interaction between the police and the DA’s office. However she also writes with a lawyer’s concern for detail, which gets in the way of the story. There are also just too many twists and the result what could be a 200 page book that actually goes to 350. To her credit, Burke is trying to provide more than the typical mystery here, and at the book’s heart are the relationships between Max Donovan and Ellie Hatcher, and between Carrie and her past. She may have thought she’d escaped her small town past but she hasn’t. Unfortunately most of this becomes little more than soap opera, and about two thirds of the way through the book I found my patience becoming stretched. In truth if I weren’t reviewing this book I doubt I would have finished it, but with a firmer editorial hand this could have been an enjoyable procedural.
All Day and a Night comes out on 1 July.
Faber and Faber
CFL Ratings: 2 Stars