Eliza Clark burst onto the literary landscape with her debut novel, Boy Parts. When your first book is so full of vitality and freshness, the pressure on the follow-up must feel overwhelming; but not for Eliza Clark, she seems to take it in stride and ups her game instead. With the release of Penance, she proves that the accolades were warranted and establishes herself as one of the most important voices of her generation.

Penance shines a spotlight directly into the face of the true crime phenomenon and exposes both its good and bad aspects. It’s a novel, so the murder that serves as the crux of the account, is totally fictional, but readers will be forgiven for expecting to hear updates about it on the local news and printed in popular newspapers and magazines. Eliza Clark wants it to seem like it really happened so that she can take the reader’s expectations and twist them into something completely different—and she succeeds in spades.

Nearly a decade ago, sixteen-year-old Joan Wilson died after being set on fire by three fellow schoolgirls. Now, journalist Alec Z. Carelli has set forth to present the definitive account of what occurred that day—the day an idyllic Yorkshire town clashed headfirst into the violent realities hidden beneath society’s façade.

Using hours of podcast transcripts, news reports, journalistic resources, and most importantly, correspondence with the perpetrators themselves, Alec Z. Carelli presents the “facts” to the reader and lets them make their own conclusions. But what happens when the human element is added to the mix of what should have been objective, and it suddenly takes on the air of subjectivity? Who can you believe, if not the people who were directly involved?

In Penance, Eliza Clark is doing nothing less than tackling one of the most persistent problems facing modern society—the ever-fluid line between journalistic reporting and biased commentary. By choosing to focus on (a fictional) true crime, she is able to examine this dilemma in a way that truly brings the problem home for readers.

And then there is the writing itself. Eliza Clark is a born wordsmith. She tackles every sentence with the fearlessness of a warrior, never concerned about breaking arbitrary rules when necessary. In many ways, the form echoes the themes—rebellion, individuality, and obsessive nature. Penance a dense book that reads so swiftly and easily; likely a one-sit experience for many readers. But the real work happens after the back cover is closed and the reader is forced to ruminate on what they just experienced.

Eliza Clark’s Penance will be looked back upon as an influential book in the crime fiction genre. I can’t wait to see what it inspires from her contemporaries and most assuredly after these two novels, Eliza Clark is sure to be an instant purchase for her fans henceforth.

BUY LINKS: Penance by Eliza Clark

Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.