Nothing Can Hurt You, by Nicola Maye Goldberg

Nicola Maye Goldberg’s Nothing Can Hurt You is another novel in a growing subgenre I’ve seen developing in literary mystery novels. For decades, mysteries have focused on solving the crime. Some bold writers choose to tell the story from the perspective of the victim. But now I’m starting to see novels that explore the emotional ripples that spread from a murder to family and friends two or three levels removed from the victim and the killer. Nothing Can Hurt You may be the most diffuse example of the genre I’ve seen yet.

The central crime of Nothing Can Hurt You is, fittingly enough, much more complicated than one usually sees in a mystery. Unlike so many other murders, the one in this novel was not committed for any of the usual motives like money, revenge, jealousy, or even because the killer was a psychopath. In 1997, Blake Campbell killed his girlfriend, Sara Morgan, while under the influence of LSD and while not under the influence of the medication he was supposed to be taking for his schizophrenia. Because the murder wasn’t intentional, Blake was acquitted: not guilty by reason of insanity.

Where other novels might keep the focus tightly on Sara’s family or the police or even a prosecutor, Goldberg shows us characters like Katherine, who meets Blake at rehab and learns that he killed his girlfriend, or Blake’s niece, who was born after the fact but who exhibits troubling behavior that might indicate that she inherited her uncle’s mental illness. The only characters with a close “connection” to the murder are the unhappy housewife who stumbles across Sara’s body while walking off an argument with her husband, and a woman who was once babysat by Sara—at least until Goldberg starts to show us vignettes of Sara’s life before she was killed.

The effect of novels like Nothing Can Hurt You, I think, can be extraordinarily powerful in getting readers to think about the real-life consequences of murder. For the most part, I believe that mystery fans—myself included—read novels about murders because we like puzzles and because we like to see justice serviced. It’s incredibly satisfying to see evil punished in this world of ours. Nothing Can Hurt You instead makes us look at a situation where justice is impossible. How do we deal with a killing caused by drugs, where the murderer really didn’t know what he was doing? Is there anything that can make up for the life that was lost? And further, how do we treat people if we know that they committed a crime in the past? What are we supposed to feel? Nothing Can Hurt You is a great addition to this new subgenre, even if it has few answers to offer readers.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

One thought on “Nothing Can Hurt You, by Nicola Maye Goldberg

  1. That’s such an interesting insight aligning readers of mysteries with people who like puzzles, I’ve always wondered what the attraction was with a genre that is so formulaic, my grandmother read mysteries and I often did her library run when I was younger, only the books with the big red dot on the spine and check for a pencil mark on page 21. The puzzle element makes sense. Whereas pop the word literary in front of it and my eyes light and wonder what that might bring, the grey areas, the dilemma of developing empathy for the murderer, the emotional impact. Great review, thank you.

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