Alice Mariani has been accused of murder, after assisting the suicide of a man she met over the internet. She insists that it was a mercy killing; she had full consent to carry out all his wishes, which included eating his flesh after death - and she has a suicide note to prove it.
Cate Austin, fresh from her secondment in the parole office is reluctant to take up the case, but she does and uncovers a puzzling background to the victim and alleged perpetrator. Is this a case of someone wishing to die with dignity, or did it turn into something more obsessive, almost occultic?
I loved Dugdall’s first novel, The Woman Before Me, for her brilliant characterisation and insight into the personalities of mentally disturbed criminals. I don’t really like comparing a book in a series to another, particularly as they can both be read without awareness or knowledge of the other.
Alice’s character is again multilayered, Dugdall introducing each layer slowly and carefully, the horrors or surprises (or both) revealed as and when the reader needs to know. She is pretty tunnel-visioned in her outlook, but comes across believably as highly intelligent, focused on the task she has set herself with no deviation ever considered, and organised to the point of putting everyone she meets into her imaginary boxes.
Those who have read the debut novel and expect a sucker punch twist in the tale will not be disappointed, Dugdall bowls a googlie you surely cannot expect coming. However, if you are looking for something that confirms or denies your attitude towards euthanasia, you won’t find it in this book, as apart from stating the arguments, does not form any opinions as to the perceived rights or wrongs and the conclusion makes any opinions void.
Although Alice’s character is nicely developed, I was disappointed that Cate’s wasn’t. She is at times rather one-dimensional, and in fact she is missing out of a fair amount of the book. Only once does she show some grit, but does it with such force that I immediately thought “Thank goodness for that, she is human”.
Also, where I could garner a little sympathy for Rose in The Woman Before Me, even at the end, I could not find anything in Alice’s character. or anything that happened to her as a consequence of her actions, that made me warm towards her. The same went for the victim; even as preconceived ideas about both her actions and his death were dashed, they were just replaced with either anger or, dare I say it, apathy. This made it difficult for me to connect with the book, as it helps if I think I am cheerleading someone, even if I know it can only end badly. The whole thing has a Shakespearean Tragedy theme; you just know that they will get their comeuppance in the end, and I couldn’t feel sorry for them.
All this aside, fans of the series will love this, and despite my criticisms I will read any future books by this writer.