Review

Natural Suspect

by William Bernhardt

It's
easy to forget that reading is supposed to be fun. I am as inclined
to pick up a heady, weighty tome as much as the next guy, but once
in a while --- like every couple of days --- I like to kick back
and read something that isn't going to improve my life or a work
that has not been blessed by the god of self-importance. This week,
NATURAL SUSPECT is just the berries.

NATURAL SUSPECT is a collaboration of sorts. William Bernhardt
starts things out with an opening chapter that sets things up.
Bernhardt's cast of characters --- and what a bunch of characters
these are, believe me --- consists of Arthur Hightower, a captain
of industry who is 350 pounds of horse manure packed into a 50
pound bag; Julia, his gold-digging lush of a wife; their obnoxious
offspring Morgan and Marilyn; and Sissy, Morgan's nymphet wife.
Arthur isn't around too long, and his untimely demise sets up a
classic whodunit with no lack of suspects.

Only this isn't your classic whodunit. Bernhardt sent his opening
chapter to another author, who added a chapter, and sent both
chapters off to another author, who added their own chapter. Eleven
authors contributed to the project, including Bernhardt. These
luminaries include Leslie Glass, Gini Hartzmark, John Katzenbach,
John Lescroart, Bonnie MacDougal, Phillip Margolin, Brad Meltzer,
Michael Palmer, Lisa Scottoline, and Laurence Shames. The result is
12 intriguing chapters (and yes, I know there are only 11 authors
listed, so someone --- probably Bernhardt --- wrote 2 chapters)
culminating in an interesting exercise of Screw Your Buddy, as each
author takes things a little further out and then leaves it to the
next author to keep things moving and somehow consistent (or not)
with what has gone before. It isn't long before the reader realizes
that none of the characters is as they seem, as each contributor
takes the tale into places and nooks and crannies that are entirely
unexpected. What comes out is a cross between a mystery and a legal
thriller --- not that the lines of those genres don't blend
frequently anyway --- with a little LeCarre thrown in just for
grins and giggles. There is also the additional puzzle of precisely
who wrote which chapter, a question that I will leave to others to
answer.

These books have been done before; there was a title called NAKED
CAME THE STRANGER written under the pen name Penelope Ashe, which
did something like this but in the Jacqueline Suzann tradition, and
more recently Carl Hiassen did a south Florida number with a group
of authors from that region in NAKED CAME THE MANATEE. NATURAL
SUSPECT continues this tradition and upholds it well, reminding us
that even in a genre about which we are passionate and serious
there can still be room for fun.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Natural Suspect
by William Bernhardt

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345437691
  • ISBN-13: 9780345437693