How many best-selling thriller writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
That question springs to mind with the publication of No Rest for the Dead, an artfully constructed page-turner of a novel with chapters from 26 top names in contemporary crime fiction. “The lineup of writers who have contributed to this mystery is akin to the Murderers’ Row of the 1927 New York Yankees,” crows David Baldacci in his lively introduction to the book. “There is not a weak spot in the bunch.”
True enough. The roster includes Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, Alexander McCall Smith, Faye Kellerman and John Lescroart — a deep bench indeed. But the writing of novels is generally thought to be a solitary pursuit, not a team sport. So the wealth of talent rounded up to create No Rest for the Dead invites the question: Are 26 heads better than one?
The story opens on death row in a California prison, as museum curator Rosemary Thomas — convicted of murdering her crooked, philandering husband — is prepped for execution by lethal injection. Witnessing the agonizing procedure is a small, embittered circle of Rosemary’s friends and relatives: her drunken, feckless brother; a beautiful, haunted artist; and a crusading newspaper reporter. Not one of them believes the condemned woman is guilty.
The death scene is especially hard on homicide detective Jon Nunn, who has come to suspect that Rosemary was framed. Nunn’s misgivings have already eaten away at his career and his marriage, and as the grim sentence is carried out, he finds himself overcome with remorse. “An innocent woman was executed,” Nunn declares. “I was the one who helped make it happen … part of my life ended too.”
Rosemary’s execution, we soon discover, is both the catalyst that drives the novel’s plot and the hinge that connects its two distinct halves. A large chunk of the action takes place in 1998, tracking the sinister events leading to the murder of Rosemary’s husband, Christopher, and the discovery of his decomposed body in an ancient “iron maiden” torture device (essentially a vertical metal coffin lined with spikes). A later section, set in the present day, centers on a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of Rosemary’s death, during which the various players in the drama assemble one last time under the cynical gaze of Jon Nunn.