An era in which privacy is becoming a myth and people's lives often are played out in the media, scrutinized for every telling detail, makes a provocative foundation for Alison Gaylin's absorbing "What Remains of Me."
In this stand-alone thriller, Gaylin delves into the dark side of pop culture, Hollywood power and tabloid reporting for a multi-layered story about a woman forever associated with a crime. "What Remains of Me" also shows how snap judgments can forever taint a person's reputation.
Kelly Lund knows first-hand how image is shaped by public perception. When she was 17 and high on pot and cocaine, Kelly was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for murdering Oscar-nominated director John McFadden in his Hollywood home. The motive for the murder has remained unclear, though the media suggested it was related to the death two years earlier of Kelly's fraternal twin, Catherine, a wanna-be actress who leaped from an overlook in the San Gabriel Valley.
While in prison, Kelly married Shane Marshall, the son of movie star Sterling Marshall whose wife, Mary, helped secure her release after 25 years. Now around 47, Kelly has been out of prison for five years, trying to live quietly, when she becomes the prime suspect in the death of her father-in-law. Sterling Marshall was shot to death in the same way that McFadden was killed.
The new murder puts Kelly back in the media glare, fodder for entertainment/gossip programs, vilified by crime commentators and pursued by a tabloid reporter who wrote a true-crime book about her. A now iconic photograph of Kelly with her "killer smile" and "dead eyes" taken outside the Los Angeles courthouse during her trial is analyzed as proof of her callous, unfeeling nature. The photograph was taken by Bellamy Marshall, who was Kelly's best friend in high school and is now her sister-in-law.
Augmented by fabricated news accounts, including bogus TMZ posts, and excerpts from a fake true crime book, acute character studies and myriad tangled relationships briskly move the suspenseful "What Remains of Me" to a believable conclusion. In many ways, Gaylin creates six different characters depicting Kelly, Shane and Bellamy as teenagers and as adults, showing how their personalities have evolved through the years.
Gaylin, who won several awards for her paperback series about Brenna Spector, delivers a stunning story in "What Remains of Me."