Chief Inspector Carol Ashton is about to take on a rather sensational case. In the opening scene of Lethal Care, we are skillfully given a wealth of information in a conversation between Madeline Shipley, of television’s The Shipley Report fame, and her old flame. We learn Carol has recently been promoted to Chief Inspector, that Carol’s son is out of the country and Carol’s relationship with Sybil may be rocky. We also learn Inspector Rooke, who was investigating the death of socialite and media darling, Greta Denby, died under tragic and questionable circumstances, leaving Carol to take up his assignment. What starts as a little prying on Madeline’s part becomes prophetic, as she tells Carol this could be one of the most difficult cases she’s ever worked. By the end of the conversation, Madeline has left Carol with even more questions than she had previously—questions about the case and about her own life and career.
The opening scene sets the fast-paced tone of the story. As we move from one scene to another, we’re engulfed in the complexity of the story and surrounded by an ever-growing school of red herrings. Carol interviews Greta Denby’s nurse and the Denby siblings while the plot twists even more with a right-to-life group, led by a religious fanatic and his band of right-wing zealots. As Carol slogs through a quagmire of complicated issues related to the case, she also must deal with personal matters like her relationship with Sybil and her own mother’s death, some twenty years before. Somehow, Carol must untangle the mess she has been dealt to find out if Greta’s death was a mercy killing or murder. Along the way, she’ll find that there are other complications entangled in this one, with no less than the Chief Inspector herself in the middle of it all.
The story is riveting throughout. The plot and subplots are filled with delightful misdirection. While those pesky red fish keep circling, we’re presented with a long list of suspects couched in multiple, overlapping concerns.
Characters do their job to either enlighten or confuse the tale. We are encouraged and tickled by the delightful character of Aunt Sarah, the feisty, dissident crone who often acts as a foil to her niece’s all-too-serious demeanor and a challenge to her hesitation in dealing with personal matters. Concern for Sybil’s welfare and the continued threat to her relationship with Carol has us turning pages to find out if these two will ever resolve their issues. Throw in a public relations guru with no common sense and an inflated sense of self-worth, a Police Commissioner of questionable reputation, a smarmy religious leader, a couple of rebellious offspring, and medical personnel who all seem a little too defensive, and this story is both riveting and complicated enough to keep the pages turning. Mix in the death of an inspector under problematic circumstances leaving behind some uncharacteristically sloppy police work, along with a character from Carol’s past trying to besmirch her reputation, and you’ve got a heart-pounding mystery with a clock ticking down to a death knell for the Chief Inspector’s career.
Challenging issues like euthanasia and PTSD inform us and, couched in this mesmeric story, enhance it. By its final pages, questions surrounding events in the story are resolved, loose ends are tied up, and the cracks in Carol’s façade leave us believing in a hopeful future.
Because of illness, McNab has given us this final installment of the Carol Ashton mystery series with the help of long-time editor, Katherine V. Forrest, who knows the characters well, which helps to maintain consistency throughout. This makes for a seamless blending of two voices, giving us a story that flows smoothly with high drama and powerful impact.
Although this is the final book in the series, the story stands alone, with just enough detail into the past to keep a new reader engaged. From beginning to end, the story moves rapidly, introducing us to a host of suspects and interesting characters, taking us on a bumpy ride and bringing this tale, and the series, to a satisfying conclusion.
By Claire McNab with Katherine V. Forrest
Paperback, 9781594935817, 252 pp.