Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blood Will Tell by April Henry

Nick Walker is part of the Portland County Sheriff's Office Search And Rescue team. His team leader Mitchell Wiggins calls him out along with fellow SAR members, Ruby McClure and Alexis Frost. Nick has been part of SAR for two months, something that he loves because it reminds him of his dad, a soldier who died in Iraq. For Nick, SAR is a stepping stone to enlisting in the army.

They are driven to the site by adult adviser Jon Partridge to search for a missing seven year old girl named Mariana Chavez.  Nick is assigned to search with Dimitri and Ruby McClure and they eventually find the little girl hiding by the side of the road. But when Mariana rushes out of her hiding place she is struck by a pickup truck and seriously injured. Her bloodied broken leg causes Nick to vomit by the side of the road but he manages to comfort Mariana. Eventually EMS arrives and the little girl and the driver are taken to hospital. This event will become very important later on in the story.

Back at the sheriff's office they discuss some of the problems that occurred at the accident site. Nick feels jealous when he sees Alexis leave with Bran and he broods over this on the drive home. When he arrives at home, Nick finds his older brother Kyle is not home nor is his mother. In the morning Nick sees numerous police cars race down his street. He receives a second call out to a crime scene just six blocks from his home. In this case a young woman has been found near death in a vacant field. Nick, Alexis and Ruby are once again called upon along with other SAR members to locate any possible evidence at the crime scene.When Nick meets Detective Paul Harriman he tells him that he drove by the lot late last night after the callout. Harriman asks Nick if he saw anything unusual but Nick tells him he cannot remember anything out of the ordinary.

During the search, Ruby asks Harriman how he decides on the perimeter of a crime scene. Her blunt, no nonsense approach is unsettling to Harriman. Ruby tells him that she wants to be a homicide detective and that she's working on her people skills. During the search the SAR team find a mitten and other items. When Nick unexpectedly has to crawl through an area soaked with the victim's blood, he starts to become woozy. Ruby helps him regain control but not before he has placed his glove down on a partial footprint, smearing it. This makes Nick distraught, but Alexis tries to comfort him, while Ruby explains why he gets sick at the sight of blood. Harriman is not pleased at what happened because this turns out to be the only print they find.

The police are able to identify the woman as Lucy Hale and they learn that she was involved in an altercation with her boyfriend, Cooper Myers at a bar. When Paul Harriman and his partner, Rich Meeker interview Myers however, they finds no discrepancies in his story, meaning they have no suspects. But when the DNA results come back from the crime lab, they point to Nick Walker. It turns out that male DNA was found on the swabs and clippings of Lucy Hale's right hand. Unable to find a complete DNA profile, the crime lab uses a new test called Y-STR typing which looks at areas on the Y-chromosome that remain unchanged from generation to generation through the male line.  All the men in a family will have the same Y-STR profile, sons, fathers, grandfathers etc. This means that there is a specific probability that a male in a family whose Y-STR was captured was responsible for the crime. In Oregon, familial DNA searches are allowed and a search in the state database locates a match to Eldon Walker, Nick's father.

Armed with this information, Detective Harriman decides to call Nick Walker out of school on the pretense that he needs to give a witness statement. However, Harriman motives are much more than just that. Nick is considered a suspect not only because of the Y-STR match but also because he was near the crime scene at the time Lucy was attacked and because he ruined the only print found at the sight.  He begins to ask Nick questions about how he would have killed the girl and what a specific knife could be used for. Eventually Nick's enthusiasm gives way to horror as he realizes he is being accused by Harriman of killing Lucy Hale. Confronted by three interrogators, Nick becomes increasingly agitated and then learns in a most brutal way, the truth about his family. Scared Nick has no one to turn to. However one of his friends from SAR figures out what is happening and knowing he's innocent, is determined to help Nick.

Discussion

Blood Will Tell is the second novel in Henry's "A Point Last Seen Mystery" series written by award winning author, April Henry. One of the stand-out scenes in this novel is the bullied interrogation of Nick by police detectives, Paul Harriman and Rick Meeker. The interrogation is initiated when Nick is pulled from school under false premises, believing he is helping Detective Harriman on the case of the murdered young woman. The police, it turns out, mislead Nick's mother by leading her to believe that he will just be asked a few questions regarding the murder investigation of Lucy Hale. Instead what follows is a sophisticated interrogation where they try to manipulate Nick into confessing to a crime he did not commit. In addition, they present him with DNA evidence that suggests a link to the victim and they reveal a family secret to Nick that as not theirs to expose. They also do a full search of his room and his locker at school. Nick is never read his rights nor is he given a chance to contact his mother or a lawyer.

This all highlights the many issues surrounding the questioning of adolescents who are considered suspects in a crime. At issue is their capacity to fully understand their rights which they may view as something that can be taken away from them rather then something they can assert or are entitled to. They may not realize the consequences of statement they make, for example how statements they make can be used as evidence against them. The may not understand why having an adult present is important. Young people are especially vulnerable to suggestion because their brains are not fully mature. They may make statements that incriminate themselves simply to stop the questioning.

Also at issue is the reliability of DNA evidence which is considered virtually infallible as a forensics tool. In her blog on her website, April Henry discusses what led her to write Blood Will Tell. Her story is based on two true events one in 1987 in Colorado and a second in San Francisco. It is possible that an innocent person's DNA can and does end up on a person or at the scene of a crime. Considering that many children are tried as adults and that the United States has many jurisdictions which have the death penalty, due diligence is important.

Henry does a great job of populating her stories with interesting characters. Nick is a boy who intensely misses his father whom he believes died serving in Iraq. His entire world is upended when he learns the truth about his father and his trust is further damaged when he learns that his mother and older brother Kyle were not honest with him. Alexis is another good character - a young woman coping with a mother who has a serious mental health issues but who is trying to manage her situation so she won't be put into foster care.She's caring and intelligent. When she is kidnapped she tries controls her fear and tries to reason with her captor to buy herself time. Then there is Nick's mother who is trying to do her best while her husband serves time but who never told Nick the truth about his father, leaving him open to learning the truth under stressful circumstances. Nevertheless, Nick's mother never seeks legal counsel for her son, despite him telling her the police believe he is Lucy Hale's killer and that he was interrogated at length by police.

Blood Will Tell has numerous narrators including the murderer who is revealed about half way through the novel. Teens looking for a murder mystery will enjoy this novel despite knowing the identity of the killer. Henry does a good job building the story to a climax and providing a satisfying conclusion while inviting readers to consider some of the issues surrounding investigating teen suspects.

Book Details:

Blood Will Tell by April Henry
New York: Henry Holt and Company    2015
258 pp.

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