Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review - "From Cradle to Grave" by Patricia MacDonald

Morgan is in town to attend the baptism of her best friend's infant, Drew. Claire chose Morgan to be Drew's godmother, but Claire's mental state is fragile and she talks constantly about what a bad mother she is. Morgan figures Claire is suffering from postpartum depression and can't seem to convince Claire otherwise. Claire's husband Guy receives a shock when the family returns to the house for the reception, and things quickly get out of hand as shortly afterward, Guy and Drew are dead and Claire has confessed to their murders. Morgan simply cannot believe Claire would have committed such a crime even in her condition and sets out to find the truth.

The blurb on the cover says this book is "nail-biting." I wouldn't say it's that suspenseful, but the author does put her heroine Morgan up against terrible odds. She finds resistance at every turn, from Guy's family and his best friend Fitz to the lawyer Noreen Quick, who takes Claire's case pro bono. After all, Claire confessed. What more is there to discover? But what if the confession were coerced? What if someone else was in the house and killed Drew? Sure, Morgan could wait for the wheels of justice to turn and maybe Claire would be found not guilty, but Morgan doesn't want to wait. She knows intuitively that Claire is innocent, and the case against her is just too strong to chance in court.

Patricia MacDonald crafts a slowly unwinding mystery. Morgan doesn't really begin investigating until about halfway through this pretty short novel (about 250 pages), and the clues don't start building up until one of the final scenes when it all comes to a head. If you like your mysteries taut, this one is for you. Also try one of MacDonald's other novels, which have gotten positive reviews over the years.

MacDonald tries to give her characters intriguing backgrounds, but she doesn't carry it off as well as writers who pen mystery series. Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, and Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley and Barbara Havers have fascinating lives all on their own aside from the cases they work on, but MacDonald just doesn't have the page count to do the same. I found it hard to care about Morgan's love interest, Simon, and it didn't seem completely relevant that Morgan's parents were killed in a bombing when she was young. Even Guy's family situation seemed unnecessarily complicated until the last pages, when the final reveal made sense of it all. In a suspense novel it's fine not to have deep characters, but MacDonald tries to flesh hers out and isn't completely successful given the short length of the story. Still, if you like some back story details and enjoy characters having lives outside the mystery in which they find themselves, you'll enjoy this book.

In all, this book is a quick read. Take it on vacation or on appointments when you might have a few minutes in a waiting room. It's easy to dip into for a few minutes and come back to if you get interrupted. It doesn't cover new ground in terms of narrative twists and turns, but sometimes a familiar set-up is just what you're looking for.

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