The Bottom Line: Veil of Doubt is a perfectly paced courtroom thriller with flourishes of forensics that will excite fans of Caleb Carr’s Angel of Darkness or the TV series Law and Order.
I love murder mysteries, courtroom dramas and psychological thrillers. Virts adds all these elements together in a very engrossing tale about a woman who is charged with murdering her husband and four children.
Based on a real story, Veil of Doubt shines a light on a case that rocked a little town in post-Civil War Virginia in 1872. Emily Lloyd’s youngest child and only surviving family member has taken ill. The sheriff and many others feel that the earlier deaths of Emily’s husband and three children are extremely suspicious. Rumors have floated all over town that she has poisoned them all. After Maud, the youngest child, finally succumbs to her illness, the district attorney, the sheriff and doctors descend on the grieving woman and demand to do an autopsy on the child. Once they find evidence that Maud had arsenic in her system, they exhume the other daughter for further evidence and then charge Emily with the murders of her family.
Powell Harrison, a phenomenally gifted lawyer who has moved back to his hometown, is called to join the defense team. At first, his family is against him defending an accused child murderer. It’s a controversial case and Powell doesn’t want his family to bear the brunt of his decisions if the town turns against them. However, he has a strong sense of duty and believes that everyone deserves good representation. After meeting Emily, he finds she resembles his sister who died in an insane asylum – something in her mannerisms, something that causes him to feel overwhelming empathy for a woman who has been made to suffer at the hands of others. Against what everyone around him advises, he decides to lead her defense team. As Powell tries to piece the case together and dig into the history of Emily’s life, he begins to discover facts that will cast huge shadows of doubt about Emily’s guilt. However, he also finds hints of information that have him questioning who Emily really is.
Veil of Doubt moves at a really good pace while also adding details about the time period, the characters’ backstories, and the forensic science available in the 1870s. It reminded me of courtroom dramas like A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, and Suspect (each for different reasons that I won’t go into for fear of giving things away). I love Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, and Virts has elements of that in developing her own historical fiction drama.
While this book is based on a real event, she has made some changes in terms of creating some backstory, characters and a plot twist. However, her additions are pretty seamless and necessary to bring the story to life. Powell is definitely a hero in this story and if I ever needed a lawyer, I would want him to represent me. He’s brilliant and caring. Emily is a victim in so many ways and as Powell discovers all of the wrongs she has lived through, I felt more and more empathy for her and many women like her who were treated so poorly at that time.
I have always been fascinated by court cases and forensic science so I was intrigued by the many details that Virts included in the trial. Her level of research is impressive and I’m really glad she found a real case like this to focus on. I really had no idea how much forensics existed at this time. I also loved Virts’ approach to the plot twist element she added based on newspaper accounts that stood out to her during her research. Her blend of real events and creative license was really superb. I enjoyed reading this novel and would gladly try any of her others if this is what I will find each time.