Missive From the Grave – Review of “Her Last Breath” by Hilary Davidson

Imagine Deirdre’s shock when she receives a letter from her sister Caroline whom she has just buried. That would be shocking enough but Caro had predicted her own death, naming her estranged husband Theo as her killer and instructing Deirdre to bring him to justice. The two sisters hadn’t been close in recent years. Truth be told, their relationship had been strained near the breaking point. But the finality of death sometimes softens the sharp corners of our memories, developing a soft focus on the past and conveniently letting go of minor slights and differences.

Armed with her sister’s letter, Deirdre sets out to dig up sufficient evidence of Theo’s wrongdoing to convince the police to arrest him for Caro’s murder even though the coroner had ruled her death from natural causes – a heretofore undiagnosed heart condition of an otherwise healthy thirty something woman. Hmm!

Deirdre doesn’t fit her family’s definition of acceptability in that she works in a low level job she could do with her eyes closed and her body is inked to the point that society circles would be aghast if they could see all her tats. She’s also an accomplished student of karate and can kick a** and take names without ever breaking a sweat. But she would never make the grade as an investigator. Subtlety is lost on Deirdre. Indeed her technique is to lay all her cards on the table, expecting her suspect to confess when directly confronted. But her family is chockablock with misfits and miscreants galore and after having located a closet full of family skeletons, she doesn’t know if she can believe any of her relatives. Her three year old nephew Teddy being the lone exception. He’s too young to have been corrupted. Yet.

As Deirdre works her way through the possible suspects the list keeps growing, not unlike a game of Whack-A-Mole. They pop up here and there and everywhere. Soon she realizes she has awakened a sleeping tiger. He’s hungry and Deirdre is on the menu. Can she figure out who it is and save herself or is there more than one killer in her twisted family?

“Her Last Breath” is one of my ‘Kindle First Reads’ for June. As psychological thrillers go this storyline by Hilary Davidson is dark and twisted, in keeping with the characters some of whom can rightfully be called evil. Except for Deirdre, the rest are a garden variety collection of snobbish society dilettantes, feeding at the trough of the family’s largesse, which is controlled by Theodore Sr. But he expects repayment for every favor he doles out and sometimes the price is a life.

This is my first encounter with author Hilary Davidson’s work and I’m impressed by her obvious talent. Her prose is spare and polished to a high luster with no  unnecessary frills or distractions. The narrative is delivered in alternating chapters by Deirdre and Theo and as each layer is peeled away, another aspect of Theodore senior’s Machiavellian tactics is laid bare. The novel is dark and gritty and intensely riveting. As I finished the last page I knew I needed a hot shower to wash away whatever it was that left me feeling unclean. Four stars.

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