Death Down Under, by Claire McNab

Reviewed by Andy Smart

Carol investigates the 'Orange Strangler' killings, a series of bizarre and brutal murders of women. Meanwhile, her lover Sybil is employed as tutor to a pair of child actors on a movie set. As a side-plot, Sybil is becoming unhappy with Carol's desire to keep their relationship a secret, or even to discuss the issue. This is a source of increasing tension and friction between them. The investigation leads towards the media empire of Wilbur Shearing, whose company is making the movie on which Sybil is working. Carol begins to worry about her safety, which Sybil interprets as another way in which Carol is trying to stifle her.

Carol is also being pursued, gently but persistently by media star Madelaine Shipley, presenter of the current affairs program 'The Shipley Report'. Madelaine understands and indicates that she would be prepared to co-operate with Carol's desire for secrecy and privacy. Things are further complicated by the fact that Shipley's program is aired on, and produced for, the media company of Wilbur Shearing and Shipley herself is in some way connected to the Orange Strangler killings, possibly as a future target. Carol is therefore caught between her need to fend off the attentions of Madleaine while still remaining on good terms with her so she can aid in the investigation.

This book develops the 'in or out' plotline which is ongoing through the Carol Ashton novels, and which is such a difficult issue to resolve in real life. McNab manages to work this in such a way that her own feelings on this topic do not prevent her showing the validity of both sides in the debate - and the fact that you can't go into the closet. If Carol chooses to come out, then with her high public profile it will become a media item and everybody's knowledge, however Sybil takes the view that what does Carol have to be ashamed or afraid of? This is a common dilemma, but one which lies at the heart of the 'coming out' process. In the Carol Ashton series it loses nothing by having been done before by other authors, as it loses none of its power for the individual in real life by having been lived through before by others.

Death Down Under is a consistently readable book, which keeps the attention of the reader and is not easy to solve before the ending. The fact that the Carol/Sybil/Madeleine issue remains unresolved at the end leaving it as an issue for future books is very satisfying given that this is a big issue for both the fictional characters and the people who have to deal with it in reality. A nice neat closure in the final five pages would be a cop-out.

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