|Review By: Crusader Hillis|
Like many readers of Claire McNab’s Carol Ashton’s series, I have been patiently waiting for a return to form. Her last book Body Guard was disappointing: ordinary prose, a dull mystery and unprepossessing characters. Double Bluff is easily as good as Off Key, her 1992 book in which Detective Carol Ashton is finally pushed out of the closet.
The latest mystery is set in the Sydney television studio where glamorous Madeline Shipley works. Madeline is once again hot in pursuit of Carol, who as usual both resists and entreats the glamorous anchorwoman’s advances. What starts out as an investigation of the possible suicide of businesswoman Tala Orlando becomes complicated as Carol Ashton unearths an array of motives and suspects in what transpires as a murder case. Complications double when a stalker who signs himself Marquis increases his campaign of terror against Madeline Shipley; he also seems to know about Shipley’s relationship with Inspector Ashton.
There are a number of welcome changes in McNab’s latest mystery; the character of Ashton’s second-in-command Mark Bourke has been further fleshed out; Carol finally seems resolved to her enforced outing and her lesbianism is no longer an issue in the conduct of her job; the minor characters are more interesting; and the plot-line is fuller and more plausible, maintaining suspense to the end. There were also a couple of inexplicable moments; for instance, we are expected to believe that Carol’s son is the most important person in her life yet she manages again to all but avoid the fact of his existence, and she goes along with the apparent homophobia and prejudice implicit in suspecting a man of murder because he’s “never married. Doubt if he’s ever had a girlfriend... still lives with his mother... his hobby is porno stuff — tapes, magazines, the whole works... and he’s had two episodes of mental illness...”, but these are minor frustrations.
McNab may lack the depth of characterisation and psychological suspense that writers such as Patricia Cornwell, Eve Zaremba, Katherine Forrest and Minette Walters, but as a writer of diverting whodunits she has honed her skills well. She also manages to end on a major cliffhanger involving the true love of her life, Sybil, who has been living in England for quite some time.