I had read a couple glowing reviews for a murder mystery/thriller novel so I was happy when I got a reading copy of the novel from NetGalley. I was primed for a great story when I started “The Last Clinic” by Gary Gusick.
Darla Cavanaugh had moved to Jackson, Mississippi, to follow her husband back to his hometown when his NFL career was ended prematurely by injury. Following his death, Darla is left trying to put her life back together in a town that seems almost foreign to her. Her bereavement leave is cut short when the beloved Reverend Jimmy Aldridge is gunned down outside the only abortion clinic in the state. The murder needs to be solve quickly before the tensions mount and lead to further violence and Darla returns to duty at the pleading of her chief.
The town quickly turns its suspicions to the doctor that owns the abortion clinic, Stephen Nicoletti, and the efforts of Darla’s partner, Detective Tommy Reylander who moonlights as an Elvis impersonator and keeps his job by virtue of his being related to the mayor, does little to help the matter. Darla quickly determines that there is more to the murder than meets the eye and she must delve into the life of the victim to uncover a mystery even greater than his murder.
“The Last Clinic” is a fast-paced thriller that pulls the reader through the action and never takes a break from the constant developments that arise during the course of Darla’s investigation. There are a lot of characters and a lot of different threads to the story that are pulled together throughout. This creates a complex conspiracy that leads the characters in directions that are not anticipated by them and also causes them to question their loyalties to each other and their duties. It is a very busy story that does not allow a lot of time for introspection as there is always something going on that causes a change of direction in the investigation. The reader is not given much time to ponder one aspect of the investigation before there is a new development in play.
Ultimately, however, I was disappointed by “The Last Clinic.” While the story was busy with something new almost every chapter, I had figured out the end of the story just a few chapters in and so the rest seemed kind of anticlimactic. Now, I tend to not hold this against the story too much since I am very rarely fooled by a story and can often figure out the ending early on. The character of Detective Reylander was too far over the top to add anything to the story other than a distraction. The fact that he was incompetent and lazy was not a problem but the repeated emphasis of his idolization of Elvis was unnecessary and ineffective.
The thing that really turned me off to the story, however, was either poor research or lazy writing in Darla’s discovery of a post office box key when searching Reverend Aldridge’s office. It seems to me like Gusic needed a way to help tie a broader conspiracy to Aldridge and chose to use this PO box to achieve this. There are a couple problems with this, however. First, and most minor, is that the box number is conveniently on the key. Now, it could be that Aldridge wrote the box number on it in marker or something, but I got the impression that it was engraved on the key and PO box numbers are not on the keys. The number on the PO box key is the key number, not the box number. Darla may have recognized it as a PO box key but would not have known the box number or even the post office by looking at the key. Second, and much bigger, the post office cannot give out information on a PO box to the police without a warrant. This is a very big mistake in a story that is supposed to be realistic. Even if the postmaster had been willing to give the information and thus jeopardize his job, Darla should have known better as any evidence gained in this matter would have be gained illegally. A warrant or the cooperation of the Postal Inspection Service is needed to get this information and access to the box in order for it to be done legally. It is true that USPS could not keep her from retrieving mail from the box with the key, but they could not have even told her as much as what the box number was without her going through the proper channels. Darla’s actions would have jeopardized the investigation and Gusic should have known better.
I still enjoyed “The Last Clinic” but have to admit that I was disappointed. I am all for plot twists but the twists in this book were too obvious for my taste and made me feel as if the twists were more to cover up holes in the story rather than to add to the story. By pushing through the story at a break-neck pace and constantly adding minor plot twists, Gusic crafts a story that is readable but little more than that.
I would like to give a special thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this advanced reading copy. “The Last Clinic” is scheduled to be released by Random House on November 18, 2013.