"Here I was in jail for murder, and it was the first time I thought I could kill someone."

Here are a few pointers to consider in the unlikely event of a murder frame-up: one, go easy on the wisecracks; two, listen to the advice of counsel; three, reconsider inter-state travel plans; four, be smart and avoid too many patently foolish actions while proclaiming innocence and seeking the true murderer. Matt, a 35-year-old Southern California computer whiz and divorcé living a decent, if unremarkable, white-collar existence in Orange County, lacks this wisdom when the police arrest him for a murder he swears he didn’t commit. Instead, in panicked denial, Matt leaps brashly into a series of foolhardy missteps that seem destined to sink his case before he can clear his name, untangle the mystery, and reunite with the woman he adores.

The classic frame-up storyline can be a fun read, but it comes with some rules. Fortunately, false leads, a murky cast of suspicious characters, and hopeless piles of condemning evidence are all faithfully executed here. Matt acknowledges the grimness of his situation but never allows the story’s fast-paced, upbeat tone to sink into genuine darkness. Instead, he bursts with pithy asides, providing snide commentary on politics and culture, even as he fights for his freedom.

The women in Matt’s orbit stick to stereotyped roles: an aggressive seductress, a devoted beauty, and a threatening shrew. Seen as they are through Matt’s eyes, however, these depictions from a young man who is lonely, suggestible, and unworldly seem reasonable and consistent. California itself is a featured player in Matt’s inner circle. From his childhood memories of long, lazy beaches and a sparse population, appealing retreats like Carmel and Corona Del Mar, and the congested, IT-centric reality of present-day Orange County, one sees California as Matt’s foundation and backdrop, and he, a convenient though peppy fall guy, is a product of his place and time.

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