“Cartwheel” is a murder mystery and story of family heartbreak that is eerily similar to the Amanda Knox case in Italy.
In this novel, Lily Hayes, an American, is on a study abroad semester in Buenos Aires. She lives with the Carrizos and another American, her roommate, Katy, who is also studying abroad. Five weeks after her arrival, Katy is murdered, and Lily is the chief suspect. Lily’s divorced parents and her younger sister, Anna, fly to Brazil to render support while Lily is in jail.
Eduardo Campos is the investigator in charge of the case. There is plenty of evidence against Lily. There is a kitchen knife with her DNA on it, Katy’s mouth has Lily’s DNA on it, and Lily was seen running across the lawn with blood on her face. Also, there was also no sign of a break in.
Then there are emails home in which Lily described Katy as “a bore.” More damaging is videotape footage five hours after Katy’s death showing Lily out shopping with her boyfriend, Sebastien, eyeing condoms and not looking the least bit upset that Katy is dead. But the most damning moment comes when Lily does a cartwheel while she is being interrogated.
Lily contends that everyone in the Carrizo household had access to the kitchen knife. She explains that she had blood on her face because she tried to give Katy CPR. Even though the investigator wants to believe a love triangle is involved, there is little evidence to support it.
Sebastien, Lily’s boyfriend, is crazy about her, but she doesn’t even ask him to her birthday party. Also, she doesn’t answer his texts and avoids him, even though he lives next door. After Katy is killed, he provides Lily an alibi, even though she wasn’t with him the whole night of the murder.
Lily also had trouble with Mrs. Carrizo — Beatriz. Lily thinks Beatriz picks on her and favored Katy. Before she died, Katy tells Lily that it is obvious that Carlos Carrizo likes Lily better, so why wouldn’t Beatriz be a little jealous of Lily and treat her with impatience. Lily doesn’t react well to a lot of people, but does that make her a murderer?
Lily’s parents and sister are only allowed to visit her in jail one day a week. As the weeks pass, they see her physical and mental condition deteriorate. Her hair is always filthy because there’s no shampoo and the water in the showers is ice-cold. On one visit, they find that her hair has been roughly shaved off because of head lice. Her defense attorneys tell her parents that Lily had purchased drugs from a co-worker at a nightclub where she worked. They read the newspapers and online accounts and begin to wonder if they made mistakes during Lily’s upbringing that contributed to her being held for murder.
“Cartwheel” is an intriguing story. The writer gives the reader several perspectives, as alternating chapters are narrated by different characters, almost as if they were testifying, which serves to heighten the suspense.
The author, Jennifer duBois, was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” authors. She also wrote “A Partial History of Lost Causes.”