Clear My Name
Paula Daly
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Buy *Clear My Name* by Paula Daly online

Clear My Name
Paula Daly
Atlantic Monthly Press
304 pages
September 2019
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The Northern English town of Morecombe provides a picturesque backdrop for missing children to wash up against, a sandy theater of murder fringed with fish-and-chips shops and pebbled beaches. Daly's chief protagonist is Tess Gilroy, who works at Innocence UK. Her job is to coordinate and examine the crucial points of the prosecution's case. Together with her colleagues Tom, Clive and Avril, Tess works to investigate and overturn alleged miscarriages of justice. Her latest case involves 30-year-old Ella Muir. Her apparent murderer, Carrie Kamara, was accused of stabbing her. Carrie was imprisoned four years ago for a murder she says she didn't commit.

Tess and Avril form a solid team. They visit Mia, Carrie's pregnant 22-year-old daughter. Did Mia ever actually ask her mother what happened that night? Mia tells them that her mother was incapable of doing it, yet claiming that your mother is innocent is all very well in theory. Mia's father had affairs, and Ella Muir wasn't the first woman he'd been with: "my mum didn't like it, but she accepted it." If Tess doesn't believe Mia's version of the events, then this investigation will stop.

How do we know people like Carrie are innocent? How do we know if they're lying? Moving to Carrie's story four years earlier, Daly forces us to take a hard, close look at Carrie's husband, Pete, but not before she ricochets back to the gory crime scene photographs. Tess notes the nature of Ella's attack, which seemed to play out in a frenzied violence that left Ella's neck and upper torso covered in an array of vivid two-inch gashes.

Carrie once had "an assured air" as she mounted the court steps, fully expecting justice to be done. Daly emphasis Tess and Avril's conflict over Carrie's possible innocence. A woman capable of such a cold-blooded crime would have no trouble presenting "a mask of deceit" to the world. The very nature of Tess's work means she must start from a position of doubt. "Are you a killer, Carrie?" If Carrie is rattled, she doesn't show it, even as she begins the process of repeating her uniform narrative. In a colorless delivery, Carrie tells Tess how the police made her fit the story they'd concocted: "I was a woman scorned. I had a massive grudge, they said." Tess realizes that Carrie is not her usual type of customer, more intelligent and articulate. She seems genuine in her recollection of events and the love she feels for her daughter, but the presence of the blood said to every single jury member that Carrie was there in that house. Ella knows there is reasonable doubt in this case. Things are not clear-cut and don't add up neatly, but Tess questions Carrie's reported innocence.

Morecombe is an effective setting, haunted by tragedy, riven with characteristic working-class dissatisfaction and full of people on the fringes, worn thin and making do with never quite enough money or options. The town has a gruff beauty, and Tess and Avril's personal conflicts add to this general sense of anxiety. The trail takes the pair to a caravan site and a man called Greg whose easy expression seems to conceal a deep loathing. Throughout, Tess tries to get beneath Carrie's skin and experience what she felt on her way to execute her husband's lover.

What is complete freedom, to go wherever you like and whenever you like? Carrie is smart enough to outwit the system. Mia walks a thin line between innocent bystander and willing accomplice. All of this darkness melds with the emotional drama and turmoil that helps ground Daly's gripping novel.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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