It’s evident from the first page of Clear My Name that Paula Daly’s heroine, investigator Tess Gilroy, is as adept at keeping secrets as she is at uncovering them. Between Tess and Carrie, the woman she’s trying to prove innocent of murder, we’re left with two narrators who are simultaneously sympathetic and also inherently unreliable. Add exquisite pacing and a plot with some real twists, and you have a recipe for a book bound to keep you up all night.
A former probation officer, Tess is now the chief investigator for a group called Innocence UK that works to free the wrongfully convicted. Her latest case brings her back home to the small town she fled. She’s investigating the murder conviction of Carrie Kamara, a woman serving a 15-year sentence for killing her husband’s mistress. Many of the details surrounding Carrie’s case seem weak and the police work potentially shoddy, but Carrie was never able to account for how her blood was found in the victim’s home. That forensic detail was enough to see her incarcerated.
Even as Tess digs into Carrie’s deeply troubled marriage and her complicated relationship with her daughter, we can sense her unease at being back home. Tess thinks she’s being followed, and she’s avoiding contact with someone from her past. The competing mysteries of Tess’ past and Carrie’s true involvement in the murder make Clear My Name feel tightly wound, with threads of paranoia woven throughout. Tess is used to false claims of innocence, and even as she is reluctant to believe Carrie, we know we also cannot trust Tess.
Eventually Tess’ and Carrie’s narratives collide in a way that is genuinely shocking. The last quarter of this mystery doesn’t so much as unfold as it explodes; the tension is at a fever pitch and the final revelations are genuinely surprising.
With a wonderfully executed mystery and two unreliable narrators, Clear My Name straddles the line between psychological thriller and good old-fashioned whodunit.