Reverend Jimmy Aldridge is a regular protestor outside the local women’s health clinic in the small town of Jackson, Missisipi. One day, someone shoots him dead. There are many people who could have wanted the puritanical, conservative preacher dead, but suspicion rests mostly on the gynecologist at the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, a Dr. Stephen Nicoletti, owing to his differences with the Reverend over the issue of abortion. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell, under intense pressure to find the killer, calls on Detective Darla Cavannah to abandon her leave of absence, “a verbal agreement” he reminds her, and take up the case. She is to be partnered with Elvis impersonator, Mayoral nephew and highly incompetent Detective Tommy Reylander.
Sheriff Mitchell in his attempt to pave the road to re-election, promises to assist the “hate-crimes specialist”, a title he confers on Darla, and which she demurs from. She also has some help from Uther Pendragon Johnson, an intern at FUSION, a combined-forces IT center. Detective Cavannah, who has in the past year lost her spouse, shelves her own bag of troubles for another day and gets on the trail. Nothing can prepare her for the unholy evil she will find.
Gusick builds his novel around a most controversial topic : Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life. He places his story in the southern town of Jackson, Missisipi where emotions run high and “modern” views aren’t taken to kindly. The plot of the story feels home-grown and apt, given that this is such a hot-button topic.
I was drawn in by Gusick’s sympathetic portrayal of Detective Cavannah. Given that the book is written in third person, from Darla’s point of view, Gusick does a pretty good job of writing from the female point of view. Darla comes across as a gutsy mature individual, with a cool head and lots of common sense. Having suffered her own losses she feels for the underdog, and does the right thing. Detective Reylander, by comparison, is a bigoted braggart with his Elvis impersonations and shoddy police-work. The Sheriff tries to keep peace, but must err on Darla’s side, since she generally seems to more reasonable. Gusick has many other more colorful characters, from the preacher himself to Darla’s feisty huntress room-mate Kendall.
Darla liked this part of Kendall, the part with the temper that said exactly what was on her mind. It was welcome relief from the standard-issue northeast Jackson women, who batted their eyes and smiled and squeaked and carried on like they’d spent every day of their childhood playing with puppies.
“I thought you sided with the right-to-life people,” said Darla.
“I go back and forth. Thank God I was never personally faced with that kind of a decision. What I don’t believe in is treating women the way Jimmy Aldridge did.”
I liked the fact that Gusick’s characters feel real, some bad, some good, some in-between. Darla’s adopted hometown is inwardly drawn; mostly everyone knows everyone and their past history. It seems like nothing is secret; the dirty laundry is out to see, or speculated upon. The locale is perfect for a mystery – on the surface this is a town of gentlefolk led by a bible-thumping preacher, but underneath that veneer is chaos.
The Last Clinic was a quick read, because it was so hard to put down. It was very well-paced and had action and good solid detective work interspersed with some very interesting descriptions of the seamier side of human nature. The story was strewn with red-herrings and suggestions of real clues, all drawn out superbly to make this is an engrossing and unpredictable who-dun-it. I thought that the romance angle could have been downplayed; there was enough to this book that we didn’t actually need that distraction.
This is a great read for mystery lovers – highly recommended.