The Heaven's May Fall by Allen Eskens is a riveting murder case told from two different perspectives.
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The Heavens May Fall is an intriguing title—what do those four words have to do with the murder of a lawyer’s wife? It can be traced back to a Latin quotation, Fiat justitia, ruat coelum: translated, “Let Justice Be Done, Though the Heavens May Fall.” Thought to have been said by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, it crystallizes a view of justice that transcends the outcome of any specific inquiry or investigation. A colloquial version of this quotation is to “let the chips fall where they may.”
Detective Max Rupert is called in when Jennavieve Pruitt’s body is discovered. Who is the prime suspect when a wife is found dead? Inevitably, one thinks, “Cherchez the spouse!” While that may be, Rupert’s longtime friend, attorney Boady Sanden, decides to defend Jennavieve’s husband Ben, convinced that he is innocent.
Attorney Boady Sanden and Detective Max Rupert are antagonists given the murder investigation. The longtime friends share a core of judicial, investigatory integrity—they want to know, above all, who committed the crime. That tension is what makes the story come alive.
Also, four years earlier, Max Rupert’s wife Jenni was murdered. Her death remains unsolved. Try as he might, Rupert cannot put it behind him. Sanden is also affected by a case from his past—years earlier, a client died that he is convinced was innocent. Two deaths, two men haunted by what might have been.
Allen Eskens has a talent for bringing disparate police officers, law clerks, investigators, and medical examiners to life, as when Dr. Margaret Hightower joins the crime scene.
Behind them came the shuffle of tired feet and they both turned to see Dr. Margaret Hightower making her way down the alley—the grand dame of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office. In her mid-sixties, Margaret moved with the gait of an eighty-year-old woman, carrying her hard life on her shoulders and in her face. For the past six years now, she wore a sobriety necklace, a silver dog tag with the inscription “one day at a time” etched on its face, and she no longer came to crime scenes with a hint of single-malt scotch on her breath.
Descriptions of post-mortems can be difficult to read—Max Rupert stands in for us when he thinks of how he learned to handle the smell of formaldehyde and the pulling of organs from a dead body. He hearkens back to a childhood memory.
It reminded Max of a day when he was a child and he watched his father replace the carburetor on their Dodge Dart. No wasted movements. Every part set aside on the garage floor in orderly formation. It was nothing to get emotional about—just a task that needed doing.
Perhaps in a post-mortem it helps to think bodies not people, but what makes The Heavens May Fall compelling is the humanity of the victim, her husband and daughter, and the cast of characters trying to solve the crime. Step by step, a fuller picture emerges of the married life of Pruitts. Jennavieve’s sister, Anna Alder-King, visits Max Rupert, suggesting that her sister’s prenuptial agreement might shed light on her death.
“You can get me copies of that prenup?”
“I’ll have it delivered,” she said. Then she turned to face him one last time. “I like you Detective Rupert, and that’s not something I say to many people. I get the feeling that, like myself, you know full well my sister was killed by her husband. I have complete faith that you won’t let me down.”
You can have complete faith that this complex story will hold your interest, from the first page to the complicated, creative ending.
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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.
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