With her sophomore release of the Detective Cancini Mystery series, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to bring author Kellie Larsen Murphy to you once again. My review of A GUILTY MIND, her debut novel in this series, can be found HERE. Ms. Murphy is no stranger to gut-wrenching situations and hard-boiled police procedure and brings that to us once again in STAY OF EXECUTION.
Little Springs was just a small college town, the kind of town where everyone knew everyone and violent crime was nonexistent—until a series of rapes and murders at the college. After an outbreak of fear and hysteria, only the arrest and conviction of Leo Spradlin, the "Co-Ed Killer," could end the terror.
Years later, Spradlin is suddenly cleared based on unshakable DNA evidence, and no one is more surprised than Detective Mike Cancini. As new questions surround the identity of the true "Co-Ed Killer," Cancini struggles to accept his role in the conviction of an innocent man. Suspicions mount when Spradlin’s release coincides with a fresh wave of rapes and murders at the college, eerily reminiscent of the original crimes. Cancini is drawn back to Little Springs, caught in a race against time to uncover the identity of the latest "Co-Ed Killer" before the next girl dies…
A tension-filled psychological mystery, STAY OF EXECUTION is also a novel about loyalty, deceit, and the darker side of truth.
The novel opens in a world of chaos as an imprisoned killer is released when the DNA evidence in the case initially used to convict him is retested and unmistakably exonerates him. The media feeding frenzy begins. The political points are pursued.
And a small town is once again shaken to its core.
Not to mention the detective who almost single-handedly placed this supposed killer behind bars, launching him into the nation's eye. Now Mike Cancini calls into question every case, every lead, and returns to the small town to retrace his steps and pick up the cold trail of a murderer - even though his boss has forbidden him to do so.
So what does Mike do? Takes vacation and returns to the hamlet of Little Springs, Virginia, revisiting old haunts, old acquaintances, and the ghosts of a gruesome past he'd thought long buried.
Until the murders start all over again.
Once again, we have a novel well plotted and paced, with characters you at times want to love AND strangle. Detective Cancini is still a bit of an enigma with challenges, self-doubt, and personal family issues that help connect this reader to him. However, I had trouble connecting with Julia Manning, the intrepid reporter inserting herself into this story. She didn't feel fully fleshed out and did some things that just made me roll my eyes. She seemed inconsistent, though will perhaps return as a love interest for Cancini in the following novel. There also was an overabundance of pronoun usage and quite a few more editing errors that jumped out and bit me - mainly a lot of missing small words and punctuation.
But the tension at times was thick. You could feel Cancini's absolute frustration. The fear of the townspeople was palpable. The sneers and snide sense of "justice" on the part of certain media personalities and politicians was almost visible and made me want to slap someone - emotion is always good in a novel. The details in the police procedure (like the minutiae in the DNA testing) was very interesting.
After being so pleasantly surprised by the twist at the end of A GUILTY MIND, I'd hoped to get something similar in STAY OF EXECUTION. However, before I even hit the 20% reading mark on my Kindle, I had every detail figured out, which left me a little deflated by the end. I'd hoped I was wrong. I'd prayed I was wrong. But everything was exactly as expected when I turned the final electronic page.
Then again, I'm just a little weird that way.
Will most readers have it all figured out by the end? Maybe not. Is this a well-crafted story? Yes. Can you get a good sense of the fear permeating the atmosphere? Absolutely! And for that I'll give STAY OF EXECUTION four stars.
Content Warning: There is occasional use of strong language in STAY OF EXECUTION. Some subject matter may be offensive or disturbing to some readers, including the rape and murder of a couple of victims (though these are not drawn out to the extreme).
Pick up a copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Kellie Larsen Murphy is the author of A GUILTY MIND and STAY OF EXECUTION, the first two books
in the Detective Cancini Mystery series. She has written for several mid-Atlantic magazines and resides in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs. She would be happy to hear from readers through her website, www.kellielarsenmurphy.com.
You can also visit her on Twitter @aguiltymind.