Fatal Reunion (Carol Ashton #2)
Clare McNab
Reading the first two Carol Ashton books in fairly close succession is interesting, as I think while Lessons in Murder was very much a first novel Fatal Reunion come across as the work of an author who knows her character and how to write her. If you’ve not seen my review of the first book, you can read it here. There is a confidence and pace to this second book which isn’t noticeable in it’s predecessor; I’m not sure I’d have noticed this if I’d not read them in quite quick succession though.

It’s ‘no spoilers’ of course so I’m not going to say a lot about the plot, beyond the outline that Carol’s ex, the woman for whom she acted on her lesbian impulses and for whom she left her husband and son, is implicated in the murder of her husband. The fact that Carol and Christine are not together and that Christine is still married should give you an idea of how much unfinished business these two have. The ex with whom there is unfinished business has overtones of Erica in Kate Calloway’s Cassidy James novel Third Degree, but it’s a good solid plot device so there’s no harm in using it. Naturally, this being a detective novel, Carol gets involved, unofficially assisting her sidekick Mark who officially is investigating as Carol and Sybil are supposed to be taking a long vacation trip to Europe which Carol postpones because of the case. This is one of those well used plots which never really rings true, and doesn’t in this case either. I suspect that any officer with any connection to anybody involved would be kept as far away from the case as possible, and something tells me that Mark, with the full support of his superiors would have put her on her flight to Europe personally in the interests of case management. After the slightly implausible business of a teacher having an affair with a student and not getting fired in Lessons in Murder it’s looking a bit as though McNab was at this point in her writing career a bit too willing to bow to the implausible.

Naturally, Sybil (who we met in Lessons in Murder) isn’t remotely happy with any of this. She’s feeling jealous and threatened by this figure from Carol’s past, and while she says she understands Carol’s desire to not be outed in the media if her and Christine’s past comes out clearly she’s not completely singing on the same hymn sheet. As characters you can see both points of view - Sybil’s a teacher, another public profile job, and is prepared to take the risk and can’t get which Carol isn’t. I think McNab handles the two sides of this well and avoids her author voice coming down (or coming out) on one viewpoint or the other. Personally, I think Sybil comes across as a bit wet sometimes in this book in a way she didn’t in the first one, but probably that’s just my reading of it. Mind you Carol comes across as a bit bloody minded and insensitive to Sybil’s feelings too so neither of them are smelling of roses.

The main plot is on good solid police procedural territory though, and fans of the classic plot of a small number of people with interlocking and conflicting motives will find a whole lot to like in this book. McNab does create interesting suspects, and you’ve got to wonder if she’s filed away lots of people she’s met in her life as somebody who could form the basis of somebody who could plausibly have killed another person, or been suspected of so doing! One of the lynchpin characters of both this book and the first one in the series is Carol’s sidekick Mark Bourke, who is the sort of solid detail oriented copper who actually get’s stuff done. I do like the way McNab portrays him as being both appreciated by Carol and not with any lingering resentment. Basically she’s given DI Ashton a reliable and likeable assistant. Interestingly, we never learn anything about Mark’s life outside the force, and Ashton herself admits she doesn’t know a lot. One has to wonder if the author is saving some revelations up for future novels. Just so long as he’s not promoted out of the series as Carol would be lost without him.

My copy was published in 1989 by the now sadly defunct Naiad Press who published so much great lesbian fiction