By Simone St. James; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
By day, Shea Collins works in a doctor’s office. By night, she writes a blog, The Book of Cold Cases, about unsolved murder cases.
The child victim of an unsuccessful abduction by a pedophile, Shea, 29, is divorced, standoffish, paranoid and a bundle of phobias. She’s afraid to get into a vehicle with another person, to be out after dark or to be home without checking doors, windows and her security system multiple times.
She doesn’t recognize Beth Greer at first when she walks into the doctor’s office. But the sound of her name brings back every detail of Beth’s notorious past.
“I’d written an article about the Lady Killer case for the Book of Cold Cases, and all I’d found was an endless spiral of speculation. There were so many details, so many what-ifs. So many questions.”
In 1977, at the age of 23, Beth Greer was tried for the murders of two men, shot after apparently stopping to help a stranded motorist. Notes left at the scenes seemed to have been written by a woman, dubbed by the press as “the Lady Killer.” A man walking his dog saw a red-haired woman wearing a trench coat leaving the scene at the last murder in a black Buick. He later identified Beth Greer as that woman.
While a jury acquitted her for lack of evidence, she was convicted in the court of public opinion. Rich, sexy, and self-confident, everyone who saw her — police, reporters, local citizens — found her cold and arrogant, a completely credible murderess.
There was just one anomaly in the evidence: ballistics tests showed that the bullets that killed Thomas Armstrong and Paul Veerhoever came from the same gun that killed Beth Greer’s father, Julian, in 1973 during a still-unsolved home invasion.
The day Shea sees Beth Greer in the doctor’s office, she takes an early lunch and follows her to a nearby park. Beth is on to her. Knowing her opportunities are limited, Shea directly asks her for an interview. Beth is noncommittal. Shea scrawls her blog’s url and her phone number on the back of a Thai restaurant flyer.
Much to Shea’s surprise, Beth Greer agrees for the first time in 40 years to talk about the murders. She even asks retired Claire Lake Police Detective Joshua Black, who investigated the case, and attorney Ransom Wills, who represented her, to talk to Shea.
They meet in Beth’s family home: “half pseudo-Victorian, half midcentury, an unlikely mix of peaked gables with yellow brick, brown wood, and glass. It was ugly — very, very ugly . . .” With Beth sitting in the living room, 40-year-old magazines on the coffee table, unused chunky glass ash trays everywhere, “it was a weird portrait of a midcentury Miss Havisham.”
Author Simone St. James shifts time and points of view. Beth is an on-again, off-again alcoholic, currently not drinking. She’s calculating and strategic. Shea, her private investigator Michael De Vos, and Beth’s dying attorney, Ransom Wells, speculate about why she has chosen now to start talking.
Shea and Michael are investigating their own questions as Shea keeps interviewing Beth — and learning more than Beth is yet revealing to them. Exposed to Beth’s fearless self-confidence, Shea begins facing some of her own demons.
There is a supernatural turn in this story, although there is nothing supernatural about the murders or Shea’s investigation of them.
There are plenty of surprises here and lots of suspense. Beth Greer is a complex character who is both appealing and repelling, always fascinating, but easy to feel ambivalent about.
Besides the darkness of murder and the tragic waste of lives either cut short or poorly spent, there’s also hope and growth that comes from facing fear and doing the hard work of living.
The Author: Simone St. James
Simone St. James is the author of THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE (March 2012), LOST AMONG THE LIVING (April 2016), THE BROKEN GIRLS (March 2018) and THE SUNDOWN MOTEL (February 2020) in addition to THE BOOK OF COLD CASES (March 2022).
She worked behind the scenes in television for 20 years before leaving to write full-time.