The 3rd Woman – Jonathan Freedland

The 3rd Woman - paperback cover

SHE CAN’T SAVE HER SISTER

Journalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing lies and corruption. But she never thought she would be investigating her own sister’s murder.

SHE CAN’T TRUST THE POLICE

Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. She uncovers evidence that suggests Abi was the third victim in a series of killings hushed up as part of a major conspiracy.

SHE CAN EXPOSE THE TRUTH

In a United States that now bows to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife – the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is. With her life on the line, Madison must give up her quest for justice, or face the consequences…

This is Jonathan Freedland’s first novel published under his real name, having already had a successful career with five novels under his pen-name of Sam Bourne.

The 3rd Woman has a fascinating premise, the familiarity of the backdrop of LA jarringly set against the premise that Beijing has taken control after America has defaulted on its national debt. Part crime thriller whodunnit, part political conspiracy, the story plays out under a confident hand, tautly plotted and rattles along to be devoured in a couple of sittings. The plot twists and turns in a most satisfactory manner as truths are revealed and Madison digs deeper into her sister’s murder, which turns out to not be the first…

Madison Webb is a fantastic, well-realised heroine and feels fully fleshed-out, as does the family dynamic between her and her sisters. I loved her sheer bloody mindedness in getting to the truth behind her sister’s murder, going up against some seriously heavy hitters. There’s a real sense of danger and peril as Madison upsets the wrong people, with unpleasant consequences.

It’s crying out to made into a movie. The Chinese-dominated smoggy LA would make a brilliant backdrop to a series… Netflix, are you listening?

Now, who would play Madison…

Here’s an extract from chapter 7:

~~~~

Leo could see the mayor was on his last question. Quick check of the phone before take-off. He scrolled through his messages. One from an old friend.

Just heard. Can’t believe it.

Just heard what? He couldn’t stand it when people played enigmatic. Total power trip, lording over you the fact they had caught some nugget of knowledge that you lacked. He would not succumb. He would not send the words his pal wanted to hear: ‘Can’t believe what?’

It was bound to be about the food export story. There were new figures showing Californians were exporting so many of their staples – oranges, strawberries and avocados among others – they were running short themselves. He checked his watch. Yep, this was about the time the numbers were due for release.

But he checked Weibo to be sure. He scrolled through, but stopped short.

Tragic news about @maddywebbnews’s sister. Thoughts and prayers are with her family.

And then:

What a senseless waste of precious life. Hearts go out to @maddywebbnews #tragedy

That came with a link to an LA Times story:

Abigail Webb, 22, an elementary school teacher from North Hollywood, was found dead early Monday in what police now believe was a likely homicide. An LAPD spokesperson would give few details, but sources indicate the cause of death was a heroin overdose. Despite an initial examination of the dead woman’s apartment which could find no confirmed signs of forced entry, detectives say a later probe of the scene found damage suggesting a break-in. Ms Webb is the younger sister of the award-winning LA Times reporter, Madison Webb.

Leo read the words several times over, believing it less and less each time. He and Madison had been together for just short of a year, but he had seen Abigail at least a dozen times. She was the first member of her family Madison had let him meet. He liked her: she had all the fizzing energy of Madison and none of the taidu, the attitude. Perhaps a bit too wide-eyed for his tastes, but her enthusiasm was contagious. He and Maddy had been to see a show at the Hollywood Bowl on a double date with Abigail and a short-lived boyfriend, dropped soon afterwards. But once those two were up and dancing, Maddy and even Leo – usually too shy and world-weary for such things – had felt compelled to follow.

Now he thought about it, Madison was different around Abigail. The cynicism receded; she was gentle. She smiled more. In their moments together, the older looking out for the younger, he realized he had caught a glimpse of the mother Maddy might one day be – a thought which he had never articulated at the time and whose tenderness shocked him.

He read the weibs again. He was scrolling further down, as if he might see a message voiding the others, announcing a mistake. He kept scrolling.

‘Leo, you better shut that down. Take-off.’

He said nothing, but turned off the phone all the same and stared right ahead.

They were fully airborne, the plane straightened, before the mayor spoke. ‘You mind telling me what this is about? You look like shit.’ Getting no answer, he pushed on. ‘You’ve seen some numbers and you don’t know how to break it to me, is that it? This that Santa Ana focus group? I’m not worried. Wait till we’re on the air in—’

‘It’s nothing to do with the campaign.’

‘You don’t care about anything but the campaign, so tell me: what’s the problem?’

Leo turned his face to look at his boss for the first time. ‘There’s been a murder. Woman, early twenties, found dead in her apartment in North Hollywood. Suspected heroin over­dose.’

Berger hesitated, letting his eye linger, as if he were assessing a job applicant rather than his most trusted advisor. ‘OK.’

‘We need to get out ahead of this one, Mr Mayor. We have to make sure that this is investigated with the utmost thor­oughness.’ His own voice sounded strange to him, too formal.

‘We always do that, Leo.’

He tried to steady himself, took a sip from the water glass on the tray in front of him, which appeared to have arrived by magic: he had no memory of anyone giving it to him. He told himself to get a grip. Focus.

‘LAPD are only calling it a “likely” homicide. Which means they’ve got some doubts. But the victim’s sister’s a journalist. She’s going to be demanding answers. High-profile, award-winner, big following on Weibo. That means this case is going to be noticed. People are going to be watching the Department, the DA, to see how they handle it.’

‘Sure.’

‘And they’ll be watching you. You don’t want to be going into the summer with a big, unsolved murder on the books.’

‘So what’s your advice?’

‘I think that when we land your first call should be to the Chief of Police, ensure this case is a priority.’

‘As soon as we land, huh? That urgent.’

‘I think so, yes.’

‘Anything else you want to tell me?’

Leo turned back towards the window, the city below now little more than a blur. He pictured Abigail and then he pictured Madison. He shook his head.

‘Anything else you ought to tell me, Leo?’

‘No.’ He paused. ‘Like what?’

‘You sure you don’t have a conflict of interest here?’

Leo hesitated, so Berger spoke again. ‘I know who the victim of this murder is, Leo. The police department of this city – sorry, of the area – do still talk to me. I know her sister is your ex, so there’s no need to bullshit me, OK?’ His gaze lingered into a stare until eventually he looked away, towards the window, watching the earth below swallowed up by clouds. When he turned back, he was wearing an expression Leo had not seen before, one that unnerved him. ‘As it happens, I agree with your advice,’ the mayor said. ‘We need to get out in front on this one. In fact, I’d go further. You need to make this story go away. And, most important of all, you need to keep me out of it.’

~~~~

The 3rd Woman is out now in paperback from HarperCollins.
JFBLOGTOURBANNER

disclaimer: Many thanks to @fictionpubteam from HarperCollins for the advance copy of Jonathan’s book for review. The opinions in the review are mine.

Author: dave

writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, bookworm and stationery geek. Doing fun things with digital.

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