Twenty years on, the destruction of the World Trade Centre on 9/11 still casts a long shadow over the world. But time has affected the way we perceive and consider those events. Fiction closer to the time – books like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) or Don DeLillo’s The Falling Man (2007) – was focussed on the event itself and the associated trauma. Crime writers have taken a different tack. Recently, in A Voice in the Night, Australian crime author Sarah Hawthorn built a current day thriller around a young woman who was in New York at the time whose lover (a client of her law firm) was killed in the attack. In Twenty Years Later Charlie Donlea also looks at events brought to a halt by the events of 9/11 but in this case it is a murder trial.
Avery Mason is the host of a popular TV Magazine show, on the track of a story to launch her second season. She hears of Victoria Ford, a victim of 9/11 who has been identified after twenty years through an advanced process of ongoing DNA testing of remains. When Avery goes to investigate the story she finds not only that at the time Victoria was about to be indicted for a high profile murder but that her sister has a recording from her from just before the North Tower collapse protesting her innocence. Avery sees more angles for her program but has skeletons of her own related to her fugitive father, wanted for financial crimes. The FBI leans on Waler Jenkins, the original investigator of the case who also used to work with FBI to both work with and surveil Avery. Walt, of course, has issues and secrets of his own to work.
As can be seen from the above, Twenty Years Later is literally dripping with plot and as a result it takes a while to get going. There is the cold case investigation, an exploration of the impacts of 9/11, Avery’s other reason for being in New York tied up with her father and Walt’s undercover mission and tragic backstory. Yet somehow Donlea manages to bring it all together. By keeping the focus firmly on Avery and Walt and their joint and individual journeys he keeps all the balls in the air. Not only that but he drops enough clues to let readers think they have worked everything out before they are revealed only to have the rug pulled out from under them a number of times, or for the information to be used in a way that they would not expect. And while the climax pivots on the solution of the murder mystery, that solution drives a completely different form of tension. And yes, it is all possible a little too coincidental and contrived but not in any way that will slow readers down.
Twenty Years Later exists in a ‘Donlea-verse’ so features a walk on role from a character from an earlier book (Livia Cutty from The Girl Who Was Taken), and even Avery’s position is tangentially connected with events in his previous novel The Suicide House. No knowledge of these previous books is required though to enjoy this volume. Donlea uses the story to shine a light on the ongoing trauma of 9/11 but also the herculean efforts being made to formally identify the victims. But aside from that context he delivers another page-turning, surprise-filled thriller anchored by engaging leads.