Title: The Deadline
Author: Ron Franscell
Publisher: WildBlue Press
Read: November 2016
Neeley Gilmartin, imprisoned in 1948 for the murder of a little girl, is let out of prison in 1996 because he's dying of tuberculosis. Wracked with pain, he still smolders from the injustice done to him all those years ago, and pleads with the newspaper editor, Jefferson Morgan, to clear his name and find the one who really killed the child.Morgan finds the request abhorrent, and is unable to believe that Gilmartin could be innocent. He refuses to help, until he does a little research and realizes that Gilmartin could indeed be telling the truth-the local sheriff won't release the trial records; the library has the microfiche files in a safe; Morgan's own newspaper clippings of the event hint at a cover-up by the town fathers at the time of the murder. Everything points to Gilmartin's innocence, and when someone burns down the newspaper office -- apparently to kill Morgan himself -- Morgan is sure of it.But what else will Morgan lose before he can print the truth?
In 1948, an out-of-work drunk named Neeley Gilmartin was convicted for the murder of nine-year-old Aimee Little Spotted Horse in the small community of Winchester, Wyoming. After having threatened Aimee’s father during a drunken bar fight, the case seemed a no-brainer, and there were no other suspects. But after 50 years in prison, Gilmartin, now dying of end-stage lung cancer, is back, and insists that he is innocent. Nobody in the community would ever take him seriously, except newspaper editor Jefferson Morgan, who always has an open ear for a good story and has made a reputation for himself by solving a tricky murder case whilst working for a paper in Chicago. Although sceptical, Morgan decides to look into the old crime to see if there is any truth behind the old man’s claim. Is it possible that the real killer is still out there? However, he soon discovers that there are people who are not happy about him asking questions about Aimee, and will go to any lengths to keep the past in the past.
The Deadline is an intriguing mystery set in the remote wilds of Wyoming. Franscell’s evocative writing brings forth believable characters in an interesting small-town setting, with its small-town politics, allegiances and tangled relationships. There is an undertone of menace and escalating tension in the background, slowly building to pose a real threat to Morgan’s safety, whose only interest is to find out the truth, and to clear the name of a man he believes innocent of the crime he served 50 years in prison for. The deeper Morgan digs into the town’s past, the more secrets and lies he uncovers, risking lifelong friendships along the way and putting himself in the firing line of people who want to keep the past buried. I loved the small town dynamics Franscell describes so well, and the slow but even pace the old mystery unfolded at. With a vivid cast of small-town residents, warts and all, the story comes to life and delivers a suspenseful, intriguing read which kept me captivated from beginning to end. There were some emotional moments as the secret and its terrible implications were revealed, adding a whole new depth to the mystery. Perhaps a few minor details at the end did not quite add up for me, but this did not detract from the overall reading pleasure.
I am excited about having discovered this talented new voice in crime fiction, and look forward to reading Franscell’s second novel in the series, The Obituary.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.