Twenty years after a shooting death deemed accidental, a respectedpediatrician is charged with murdering a man who had been his friend. In those intervening years, the pediatrician, Dr.Benjamin Weber, has married his friend’s widow and adopted their two children. And during those years, he has provenhimself to be a devoted father and spouse as well as a trusted physician.
Dr. Weber pleads innocent, and his wife believes him. His grown daughters Lauraand Lin believe him. Or do they?
As the novel evolves, the mystery at its center deepens into an exploration ofdivided loyalties and precarious family relationships, of children’s need to believe in conflict with their desire for truth.
This suspenseful novel combines elements of the conventional murder mystery andcourtroom drama, but goes beyond these into that greater drama of the human heart in conflict with itself.
Inspired by an actual case, Dead Center is really an ancient story incontemporary guise, one wherein betrayal
blurs with love, evil with good, hatred with forgiveness, and guilt withinnocence. It is also the story of a family that has been wrenched apart by loss for a second time but not, finally, destroyed.
In Higgins's sharply probing novel, her first since A Soldier's Book (1998), Laura Weber and her sister, Lin, grow up knowing that their father, Pete Hyland, died in a hunting accident when they were quite young. Their mother, Karen, later married Dr. Ben Weber, who became their loving stepfather. Weber and Hyland were hunting together when Hyland was fatally shot in what was quickly and quietly dismissed as an accident. Eighteen years later, the investigation was reopened, and two years later, Weber was arrested and extradited from the family's Hawaii home to Tunley, Mich., where the shooting took place. As the kids gather to support their parents at the hearing and then the trial, details emerge that rock and test them all. Based on a true incident, Higgins's psychologically acute story deftly illuminates the complexities that bind and separate an American family. —Publishers Weekly
The novel is somewhat reminiscent of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent—we really don’t know whether Weber is a murderer or not. Higgins keeps us wondering until the very end. A very well-crafted novel. —Booklist
Gracefully unwound, skillful, storytelling. —Kirkus
Although it bears all the trappings of a taut legal thriller, this is, at heart, a riveting existential meditation on living with uncertainty. While danger lurks around many a corner , the novel’s most significant drama plays out behind the closed doors of the Weber household. As sisters Laura and Lin bicker over the likelihood of their father’s innocence, their mother fades slowly into the woodwork, a ghost clinging desperately to the shreds of her failing Catholicism in order to maintain even a modicum of order in her life. It’s in this arena that Dead Center transcends the limits of genre fiction and crosses over into the realm of the literary. By forcing her characters to question the very foundations of their comfortable lives, Higgins also forces her readers to do the same.
—New York Journal of Books
Joanna Higgins lives with her husband and two children inupstateNew York and northeastern Pennsylvania. She has taught literature andwriting at colleges and universities in Michigan, England, Pennsylvania,NewYork, and Hawaii. Her fiction and plays have received recognition andawards,including a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship. Of her firstnovel, A Soldier’s Book, Kirkus said, “An impressive debut, complex andpenetrating, amoving first novel and a notable contribution.”