Title: The Last Clinic by Gary Gusick
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 250 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
In a fast-paced, suspenseful debut novel for fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner, detective Darla Cavannah goes Deep South in pursuit of a merciless killer.
Outside the local women’s health clinic, the Reverend Jimmy Aldridge waving his protest sign is a familiar sight. But that changes early one morning when someone shoots the beloved Reverend Jimmy dead. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell knows the preacher’s murder will shock the good people of Jackson—and the pressure to find the killer is immediate and intense, which is why Shelby calls in detective Darla Cavannah.
When police detective Darla moved from Philadelphia to Jackson with her husband—hometown football hero Hugh “the Glue” Cavannah—she never imagined the culture shock that awaited. Then after Hugh dies in a car crash, Darla enters a self-imposed exile in her Mississippi home, taking a leave of absence from the sheriff’s department. Now she’s called back to duty—or coerced, more like it, with Shelby slathering on his good-ole-boy charm nice and thick, like on a helping of barbecue.
Reluctantly partnered with a mulish Elvis impersonator, Darla keeps a cool head even as the community demands an arrest. The court of public opinion has already convicted the clinic’s doctor, Stephen Nicoletti, but Darla is just as sure he’s not guilty—even as she fights her growing attraction to him. From the genteel suburbs to a raunchy strip club, Darla follows a trail of dirty money and nasty secrets—until the day of judgment comes, and she faces down an ungodly assassin.
Gary Gusick’s The Last Clinic is an intriguing mystery that is full of unexpected twists and turns. Pennsylvania transplant Darla Cavannah’s murder investigation of a popular minister soon uncovers scandalous secrets and a shocking conspiracy. With time running out and a man’s life at stake, will Darla put all of the pieces of this puzzling mystery together before it is too late?
A colorful cast of interesting characters is certainly one of the highlights of this entertaining and clever murder mystery. Darla is a richly developed and multi-faceted protagonist whose investigative skills are unsurpassed. As an outsider, she has a vastly different viewpoint of possible motives and suspects in Reverend Jimmy Aldridge’s death and she follows the evidence rather than jumping to quick conclusions. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell is a charming Southern lawman with political aspirations who fully recognizes and appreciates Darla’s expertise as an investigator. Unfortunately the good old boy network is firmly in place and Shelby reluctantly saddles, er, partners Darla with Tommy Reylander whose investigative skills are as abysmal as his Elvis impersonations. The other side of the bumbling investigator coin is the sharp as nails computer geek Uther Johnson whose tech savvy skills prove invaluable to Darla’s investigation when he discovers a disturbing pattern to a seemingly unrelated series of crimes.
The logical suspect in the reverend’s death is Doctor Stephen Nicoletti but Darla is not as convinced of his guilt as Tommy is. Instead, Darla focuses on Jimmy’s life and the troubling evidence found at the crime scenes. Darla’s intense scrutiny reveals very unsavory aspects of Jimmy’s life and an appalling breach of his congregation’s trust.
The only area the novel falters is the rushed romance between Darla and chief suspect Stephen Nicoletti. As the story opens, Darla is still deeply mourning of her husband’s death, so I was a little taken aback at how quickly she fell in love with Stephen. Their relationship would have been much more believable if there had been a slower build-up and exploration of their growing feelings for one another.
The Last Clinic is a fast-paced and compelling mystery that I found impossible to put down. Gary Gusick deftly handles sensitive topics with ease and his characterization of Southern life is quite accurate. Unexpected plot twists keep readers guessing whodunnit right up until the novel’s conclusion. An excellent first installment in what I hope is a new mystery series starring the delightfully engaging Darla Cavannah. Definitely a recommended read for anyone who enjoys mysteries.