Render Up the Body


Render Up the Body was published in 1998


From the book jacket, U.S. edition:

“In Render Up the Body, law professor and former federal prosecutor Marianne Wesson makes a thrilling and passionate debut. From absorbing descriptions of behind-the-scenes legal procedure to a shocking climax that will surprise even the most seasoned reader, this is an extraordinary novel of suspense.

Many months later I sat in the dim witness gallery, trying not to look at the ugly chair on the other side of the window. Presently my client would be brought to sit in the chair, and he would not leave it alive. I could not change this prospect, nor could I find any justice in it. My only comfort, thin as it might be, would have to come from telling the story that had brought me here.” Lucinda Hayes, Attorney.
A decomposed body is found high in the mountains of central Colorado. The remains are identified as those of Nicole Marie Caswell, age twenty-two. Ten months later, Jason Smiley is arrested and charged with Nicole Caswell’s rape and murder.
Long before Smiley’s arrest, Cinda Hayes had become disillusioned working as chief sex crimes prosecutor for the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office—a job muddled with too many calculating egos, too much machismo, and not enough decency. When the opportunity arises for her to become director of the Boulder County Rape Crisis Center, she doesn’t think twice—she jumps at the chance to leave the practice of law behind. But six months after Jason Smiley is convicted and sentenced to death, Cinda is abruptly summoned by her old mentor, Justice Hilton James of the Colorado Supreme Court, and told that the state has chosen her to handle Smiley’s appeal. The appointment creates obvious conflicts for Cinda: her new profession is built on defending rape victims but Justice James assures her that she will not be expected to argue her client’s innocence. She is instructed, instead, to carefully examine the trial record for errors that may have compromised Smiley’s right to procedural justice.
Immediately, Cinda feels an invisible noose begin to tighten. Her rape crisis colleagues start avoiding her and, most disturbing, her closest friend, Assistant District Attorney Tory Meadows, suddenly vanishes from her life. Cinda’s strenuous efforts to avoid being drawn deeper into Smiley’s case are failing, as Smiley insists that the only error at his trial was the conviction of an innocent man. At a memorial service for a fallen Boulder mountain climber Cinda begins to sense the truth, which may include a deep cover-up involving Tory and the D.A.’s office. Armed with what she has learned, Cinda must decide whether to defy the Court’s instructions and demand to have a high-profile death row case reopened.”

What some of the critics said:
Susan Isaacs “Bright and lively and very, very smart.”
Sara Paretsky “It is hard to believe that Render Up the Body is a debut novel, so skilled is the writing. Scott Turow fans will devour this intense legal drama.”
The Independent of London
January 1998
Time to use those Christmas book tokens on two debut crime novels that cannot fail to impress. Both are billed as successors to Patricia Cornwell. . . .
Marianne Wesson’s debut novel, Render Up the Body . . . features a protagonist whose job is that of her author. Colorado-based Cinda, a lawyer, is disillusioned with the District Attorney’s office and starts a new career as director of a Rape Crisis Centre. Enter the complications . . .  Cinda’s principles are put to the test. . . .As she struggles with legal precedent in an effort to free [her client], she undermines her position at the Centre.
Marianne Wesson keeps a tight grip on the complex threads of her plot. She creates characters whose rounded humanity and moral dilemmas are irresistible. She challenges knee-jerk reactions to the effect of rape on its victims, and she plants those clues right from the start. In short, there’s no need to compare this author with Patricia Cornwell. Render Up the Body stands on its own merit as a very fine

Publisher’s Weekly
December 8, 1997
“This intricately layered legal thriller marks the debut of a sure-handed novelist who uses credibly flawed characters to dramatize the imperfections of the judicial process…Wesson is at pains to touch all the requisite social bases, giving us interracial lovers, the professional and personal trials of gays and lesbians and other good souls trying to buck a sinister white-bread establishment. Fortunately, her treatment of hot-button issues nearly always strikes one layer deeper than the expected. Strongly plotted and told with style, the novel engages readers’ hearts and minds alike and marks yet another notable debut in a genre that has seen its share, and then some.”
The London Telegraph
January 18, 1998
“Since Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent charged into the best-seller lists a few years ago, American lawyers have rushed to churn out legal thrillers. Marianne Wesson’s Render Up the Body is among the few which matches the impact of Turow’s book. At the centre of the stroy is a former assistant district attorney renowned for her determined prosecution of rapists. Her life is transformed after she is forced into handling a convicted rapist’s appeal against his death sentence. The book is unusual in that it succeeds in creating tension without spending time on dramatic court-room scenes. Wesson’s characters are convincing and the story is gripping throughout, with a shocking final twist. This is a remarkable debut.”

San Jose Mercury-News
January 25, 1998
Lawyer’s Dilemma.  Mimi Wesson is am ex-prosecutor and trial lawyer, now a law professor and well-known legal analyst on television (there’s a profession for the ’90s). In 1991, she was appointed by the California Supreme Court to represent Jerry Grant Frye in appealing his death sentence. The case is still going on, and Frye maintains his innocence. These experiences led Wesson . . . to consider the moral dilemma of a lawyer who made her career as a sex crimes prosecutor and director of a rape crisis center, who now is representing a man accused of rape and murder. The result is Render Up the Body. . . . Cinda is forced throughout to make tough moral choices, and a strength of this book is that the consequences — even of the “right” choices– are sometimes tragic. Nothing is obvious; nothing is easy. Most legal thrillers are essentially theatrical and romantic; in them, great lawyers are gods. Wesson’s gaze is deeper, sadder, and more illuminating. This is a superior work.

Murder Ink
Winter, 1997
“This is one of the best books I’ve read in years, and it’s a first novel… Wesson, a former prosecutor herself, has written a diabolically clever story, in which the interpretation and applications of the law are one murder mystery, and what actually happened-who raped and killed this woman-is another. This novel packs the same impact as Dead Man walking, with a stunning surprise ending-I had to put the book down for a moment to get my bearings back.”

The Sunday Times of London
November 16, 1997
By Donna Leon
“Although a cover blurb announcing ‘the most exciting debut since Patricia Cornwell’ would ordinarily cause me to run screaming from the room, Marianne Wesson’s Render Up the Bodyturns out to be quite good. The central character, Cinda Hayes, is a lawyer with a conscience and a refreshing lack of self-importance…
Wesson’s characters are convincing and sympathetic, the prose well crafted. All in all, it is an excellent debut.”

The Baltimore Sun
January, 1998
By Michael Shelden
Marianne Wesson’s “Render Up the Body” is an amazingly accomplished first novel about modern crime and punishment. . . . utterly convincing in its descriptions of a police investigation gone wrong and the subsequent battle for justice. . . . [T]he wonder is that a highly trained attorney should write so well. As Wesson’s heroine struggles to find the truth behind a suspicious death-row case, the story moves forward with the speed and conciseness so notably lacking in the legal world itself.

The Kirkus Services, Inc. Kirkus Reviews
December 1, 1997
“Newcomer Wesson, a prosecutor- turned- defense- attorney, melds Dead Man Walking with the legal thriller formula in her provocative debut.
Months after she’s left her job in the D.A.’s office to head the Boulder Rape Crisis Center, Lucinda Hayes gets leaned on by her old teacher, now Colorado Supreme Court Justice Hilton James, to go back to the courtroom by handling the habeas corpus appeal of Jason Smiley, on his way to the death house for raping and murdering his blue-blooded lover Nicole Caswell…Just when you think Cinda’s headed for a courtroom showdown and a heartfelt, predictable emabattled-heroine conclusion, Wesson detonates the first of a series of bombshells that keep her heroine scrambling until the final satisfying surprise…an audacious, unsettling mixture of legal suspense and morality play.”

Boulder Daily Camera
December 7, 1997
By Clay Evans
University of Colorado law professor and Boulder resident Marianne Wesson – better known around town as Mimi – has stirred up a lot of excitement in the hard-to-please world of big-time publishing with her debut novel, and it’s not hard to see why.
Part mystery, part legal thriller, part political dissection, and part character examination, Render Up the Body is not flawless, but it’s satisfying and well-executed beyond what most readers expect from a genre novel…
Throughout the novel, Wesson’s characters muse on hot topics of the day, from the morality of the death penalty…and Amendment 2, the Colorado law approved by voters in 1992 and later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court that would prevent laws protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.
Throw into the mix some interesting lesser characters…some cloak and dagger shenanigans by some unlikely suspects, and the web Wesson weaves grows ever more tangled.
But fear not: She manages, quite cleverly, to wrap almost everything up by novel’s end. If the setup seems to point to some kind of predictable resolution, don’t stop reading. Few readers will have put all the pieces of the mystery together until Wesson does it for them right under their noses. (It’s a plus, that Wesson doesn’t grab for the obvious and easy emotions; All is not necessarily well by novel’s end.)…
Wesson works deftly within genre conventions to create genuine suspense, realistic emotion, and a concluding payoff that make the effort worthwhile…
If the second novel is anywhere as welldone as the first, expect her name to be as recognizeable as Sara Paretsky’s, Judith Van Gieson’s, or even Tony Hillerman’s within the next few years.”

Denver Post
January 4, 1997
By Diane Hartman
Does “Render Up the Body,” by Marianne Wesson qualify as a “legal thriller”? Hard to say, but it was a happy surprise. This first novel by Marianne Wesson, a University of Colorado law professor, has enough suspense, plot twists and small and large ironies to keep the pages flipping. . . . It’s fascinating to see this story grow more complex – as Cinda gets to know the man on a fast-track to lethal injection, to see her struggle with her friendship, love relationship and work, which turns very strange.
Will Cinda find true love, hang onto or ever understand her friends, keep her job and keep from being disbarred? . . . this book gets away from the “find a body, make an arrest, put them on trial” formula and launches into a more personal look at the legal system. Most important, it’s a good read.

Rocky Mountain News
December 7, 1997
By Bill Scanlon
“The protagonist jogs around Wonderland Hill, sips cappuccino at Pour La France, dodges bad guys up Sugarloaf Road….
Familiar landmarks, familiar characterizations, familiar sexual politics.
The title is a loose translation of ‘habeus corpus,’ the legal maneuver the protagonist uses to try to win an appeal for a death-row inmate…
Wesson, a law professor at the University of Colorado, says her inspiration was Jerry Frye, a San Quentin death row inmate she is representing before the California Supreme Court. She dedicates the novel to him…
The plot is satisfyingly complex, the denouement full of surprises…”

Kate’s Mystery Books Newsletter
December, 1997
Marianne Wesson captivates in her stunning debut mystery Render Up the Body, (HarperCollins, $24.00). She crafts a legal thriller that should make John Grisham green with envy.
The protagonist, Lucinda Hayes, is a former sex crimes prosecutor running a rape crisis center in Boulder, Colorado. She is enticed into handling a death row appeal by a state supreme court justice. . . .
We are given a frighteningly realistic view of the disparity between the legal system and justice. The appellate process becomes fascinating. Displaying skill that a veteran author would be proud of, Wesson makes her characters come alive. . . . Read this book on a weekend. You won’t have to skip work to finish. One can only hope that Wesson writes another one quickly. (TheChauffuer, 5 cats)[Kate’s highest rating]