Going to the Bad by Nora McFarland
Do you remember the scene where the heroine is being strangled and desperately reaches behind her and her fingers fight for a grip on. . ? There are as many deus ex machina objects to pick up in self-defence as there are things lying around in the clutter we call our homes. In equally believable scenes, there prove to be no convenient staplers or emery boards to hand, but there’s a pet pirana who loyally jumps out of the fish tank and bites off the killer’s ear before suffocating in heroic glory on the floor. In one notable book, we’re routinely shown a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig wandering vacantly around the home only to have it lumber into life and sink its teeth savagely into the leg of the killer. The pig was actually hoping for the throat but was finding it difficult to raise itself off the ground. Well, all these clichés have been thrown into the dustbin of history by Nora McFarland who, in the third outing for Lilly Hawkins called Going to the Bad (Touchstone, 2012) manages to defy expectation with a completely unexpected and so hilarious masterstroke to rescue her heroine at a critical moment. It’s a moment to treasure.
At this point, I’m forced to admit actually laughing out loud twice while reading this book. This is, you understand, an “event” occurring with the same frequency of the Passion Play at Oberammergau. But watching the careful orchestration of the first set piece so neatly place all the elements and then bring them altogether at just the right moment and in just the right order, how can we not celebrate the style, artistry and wit of the author to make such a thing possible on the page. If copies were available, this would become the most viewed video of all time on YouTube. But, lacking all the context, it would only make us smile. Only when you come to appreciate exactly what had to go wrong for all this to happen, can you appreciate the full humour. Indeed, the final line to perfect the joke only comes very close to the end of the book when we discover why one of the key people was not present.
So far, this might strike you as a rather odd way to describe a mystery yet, for once I agree with the marketing hype that not only is this a fun read, but it’s also a smart thriller. It may not be wholly credible as our heroine blunders around the landscape in thick fog but, by the time we get this far into the book, it ceases to matter whether the degree of realism is high or low. After a slightly slow start with characters being introduced and memories jogged as to what went on in the previous two books in the series, we’re allowed to slide down an increasingly slippery slope into a major one-person expedition to find the truth of it all. Indeed, it becomes the ultimate quest. Can she get to the source of the Nile, catch the killer, reveal what her uncle was actually doing when younger, recover the missing medals, bring down the drug dealers and save the relationship with the man she loves in the twenty-four hours starting on Christmas Eve and ending when the turkey should be ready to come out of the oven? Well, apart from the Nile (Henry Morton Stanley beat her to it), she nails all the rest and may have found the ultimate Christmas present (or two) depending on how you view new relationships.
When you put all this together, I glad I found Nora McFarland. Going to the Bad is one of the best mysteries or thrillers of the year so far.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.