Book review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

Sunday, October 14, 2018 Permalink

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson was released just before I went on holidays. I usually receive info about upcoming books a few months before their release but suspect I assumed the book was in fact a ‘true crime’ / non-fiction book, rather than a fictional account of a true crime documentary. (Cos I don’t ‘do’ non-fiction.)

Anyhoo… I was revoltingly stressed before my holidays so only got to many August / September emails in October (on my return) and had one from Penguin Random House about this book. I knew the book had been released to glowing reviews so I snapped up a copy when it was offered. And what a great debut novel it is.

Book review: Greenlight by Benjamin StevensonGreenlight
by Benjamin Stevenson
Published by Penguin Books Australia
on September 3rd 2018
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 0143789872, 9780143789871
Pages: 368

Four years ago Eliza Dacey was brutally murdered.Within hours, her killer was caught.Wasn’t he?

So reads the opening titles of Jack Quick’s new true-crime documentary.

A skilled producer, Jack knows that the bigger the conspiracy, the higher the ratings. Curtis Wade, convicted of Eliza’s murder on circumstantial evidence and victim of a biased police force, is the perfect subject. Millions of viewers agree.

Just before the finale, Jack uncovers a minor detail that may prove Curtis guilty after all. Convinced it will ruin his show, Jack disposes of the evidence and delivers the finale unedited: proposing that Curtis is innocent.

But when Curtis is released, and a new victim is found bearing horrifying similarities to the original murder, Jack realises that he may have helped a guilty man out of jail. And, as the only one who knows the real evidence of the case, he is the only one who can send him back …

True crime documentaries (on TV, podcasts and the like) are the flavour of the day. (I know there’s a sexier French way of saying that – something du jour – but I can’t be arsed googling it at the moment).

Although I got sucked into the S-Town podcast I don’t tend to gravitate towards them; other than in fiction… and the Mary Higgins Clark / Alafair Burke (Under Suspicion) series (more centred around unsolved crimes) comes to mind.

Interestingly this book kinda starts once Jack has already done all of the research and he’s putting the finishing touches on the TV show. We readers don’t find out some of the detail of the first murder and subsequent investigation until later… when Jack’s revisiting it (again).

As per the blurb, when we first meet him, Jack’s just found something that could indicate that Curtis is not innocent (after all); but – with the help of Curtis’s defence lawyer –  he’s reminded his documentary is centred around the fact that Curtis was pretty much railroaded from the get-go and not given a fair trial, rather than who – in fact – might have murdered Eliza Dacey four years earlier.

He takes solace in the fact that it wasn’t HIS show that overturned Curtis’s guilty verdict, rather it raised questions that had the case reconsidered by the court system.

Months pass and Jack’s starting to get comfortable with his success and pushing thoughts of the evidence he’s hidden in his cupboard; and the notion of justice for young backpacker Eliza, aside until there’s another murder.

And the next murder is similar enough that it’s either a copycat or Eliza’s killer has struck again.

Those who believed in Curtis’s innocence now believe that he’s been erroneously freed and Jack is blamed.

Jack himself (with evidence hidden in his cupboard) is struggling with guilt that he’s played a role – in either re-igniting a killer or setting off a copycat  – so decides to head to the Hunter Valley (and scene of the original crime) to investigate Eliza’s death himself.

He’s an unwelcome intruder to all other than Curtis’s younger sister Lauren who’s significantly more likeable than her brother. Interestingly however, the former cop who’d gathered crucial evidence leading to Curtis’s arrest is also surprisingly helpful.

The plot of this book is an intriguing one. I watched an interview with Stevenson so know he’s worked in the publishing industry and was concerned about predictability. If anything this gets a little overcomplicated with a range of motives and local happenings; but guess he’s muddied the waters enough for Jack to be misdirected a number of times.

The real shining light in this book is the character of Jack. I can’t say too much without preempting a significant reveal (though know other reviews have touched on it)  but there are a few early references to Jack’s mental and physical health.

We learn that he’s struggling with guilt over an accident when Jack was ten (or twelve, I wasn’t sure) which left his brother in a permanent vegetative state (fed via tubes and cared for by their father). But it’s Stevenson’s portrayal of Jack’s demons (well, his mental illness that he hasn’t ever recovered from and the way it impacts all aspects of his life every day) that’s really strongly and sympathetically delivered. Like I’ve said I’ve seen others comment on it but it’s so unexpected (and brilliantly reflected) that I’m leaving the detail out.

It feels as if Stevenson is making a commentary about ‘reality’ and truth on a few occasions. Jack often defends his actions by reminding others he’s not a journalist. And he’s not a police officer.

A lie becomes the truth when you’re the only one who knows it’s a lie, and you’re the only one telling it. p 81

And several times Jack’s forced to contemplate ‘the lies you can live with’.

And – as Jack’s conscience starts to prick at him – there’s a line from Curtis’s lawyer about the public’s reaction to shows like Jack’s documentary…. the fact that people rail against that type of injustice, yet there are far more dire things happening in the world we should be fighting.

This will sound cold-hearted, but there’s worse things going on in this country than a murdered woman. But that’s what makes the news. It’s about what we’re comfortable rebelling against. pp 42-43

This is a great debut novel. I mention some unnecessary layers but guess they add to the complexity and even when we think we know everything, we realise we don’t.

I’m sure we’ll see more from Stevenson and in the interview I watched he mentions his next book… about a newsreader who kills him/herself on live TV but is… in fact, murdered. I must admit I’d actually like to see more of Jack so hoping he’s (ahem) available by then.

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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