Nikki loves her boyfriend Dee, for whom she would do anything. So when the police want to talk to Dee about what went down the day before, Nikki is right there to help him figure out a story to tell the police. On their way from her best friend, Bird's home to the station, they work out exactly what he would say. According to Nikki, he needed her to be strong and to help him. And she did just that until she learns what really happened.
Nikki had met Denarius Pavon, Dee for short, months ago and they had broken up for a period of time. But in May he had returned, with a large tattoo of the letter "N" on his chest surrounded by wings. This was more than enough proof of his love for her. Although Bird had warned her about getting involved again with Dee, Nikki felt her love for Dee was the right thing. Then on Saturday he'd asked her to go for a drive. Nikki thinking they were going on a special weekend was more than happy to go. Without asking Bird, they took her car and went to a part of town Nikki had never been to before. Then Dee had gotten crazy and done something really strange that involved disguises and lots of gunshots.
When Nikki is at Bird's place on Sunday, she see a television news report about a policeman, Deputy Marshall Palmer, who has been murdered outside his home on Saturday. Nikki's blind love for Dee causes her to lie to the police when they come to question her. But when they return to Bird's home, wanting to search Bird's distinctive purple mustang which has been identified by witnesses as being the car seen near the Palmer home, Nikki returns to the police to give them another statement meant to clear her friend Bird. What it does is cause her to be charged with being an accessory to the murder of Deputy Duane Palmer.
In shock, Nikki is sent to jail and provided a lawyer who advises her to plead guilty to the murder charge. However, Nikki tells him that she did not know what Dee was planning or what really happened until she saw it on the news. When she goes before the judge at her arraignment she remains silent due to shock and that is taken as a not-guilty plea. As she struggles to adjust to life in jail, Nikki still clings to her notion of how her love for Dee is all that matters. Until she meets the district attorney's prosecuting the case, who reveal to her the real motives behind Dee killing Deputy Palmer. Nikki has to decide if her love for Dee was real and what matters most, her life or Dee's?
Criminal is a dark novel that has many psychological elements to the storyline which could have been more deeply explored. The focus is on a young woman's obsessive love for a man, to the point that she will do anything for him. It might seem hard to understand how someone can behave like this but McVoy provides brief hints into Nikki's youth that suggest she grew up in a terribly abusive situation, with no one really to care for her. Her mother, Cherry, is a reprehensible character, a crack addict who is still bent on abusing Nikki when she is kicked out of Bird's home and returns home. Her stepdad, Gary is in jail and her home life was so bad that Nikki was forced to live with Bird.
As Nikki spends time in jail she begins to reflect on her relationship with Dee and to understand more about herself and what caused her to do what she did. McVoy uses the format of letters that Nikki writes to Bird's daughter Jamelee to let her readers into Nikki's mind. These letters begin to explain how Nikki believes at first that she had to do what she did to hold on to Dee and his love, even if her actions weren't right. Unfortunately McVoy does not have Nikki continue writing these insightful letters because Bird visits the jail, telling Nikki to stop and that they must never see one another again. However, the letters have started Nikki on a journey of self-discovery and how she came to be involved in a destructive relationship with Denarious Pavon. Nikki gradually faces the reality of her life and her relationship with Dee - that she was used by someone who did not care for her in any meaningful way. Nikki comes to understand that Dee planned this before he came back to her because Dee was a manipulative person who knew he could use Nikki. "He knew before he even called that I would do whatever he said, whatever he wanted."
Nikki also recognizes that she has low self-worth, that she only feels loved when she has sex with Dee, but she realizes that she too was taking from him. She also must face the fact that she helped Dee kill a man and that at first, this didn't bother her. She was only concerned about keeping Dee's love for her.
McVoy goes into significant detail as to the court proceedings, but not in a way that will overwhelm or bore her readers. This helps the reader to understand the process Nikki must go through, and presents the framework for Nikki working through her feelings about her toxic relationship with Dee. What was puzzling was that there was no one helping Nikki through this process, no counselor or psychiatrist while she waited in jail for the case to come to court.
The novel which is much different from McVoy's previous offerings, has much mature content, several sexual situations, and some swearing. The violent murder is not graphically described. Despite the dark subject matter, McVoy has crafted a hopeful ending in which Nikki seems intent upon taking charge of her life and forging a future for herself. Well written, gripping and not to be missed by older teens!
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
Toronto: Simon Pulse 2013