Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son, by Colleen McCullough, is the fourth installment of her Carmine Delmonico mystery series. The novel is a rich, tightly-woven tapestry of colorful characters and intriguing plot. It's a story of blind obsession, and ruthless dominance. Combine this with a 1960's biracial marriage, an exotic Yugoslavian model in a May-December marriage to a wealthy publisher, her diminutive, cretin-like maid who forecasts the future from a bowl of water, blackmail, deceit, unbridled ambition and you have a whopping tale filled with misdeeds and dead bodies.

A ampoule of lethal poison, extracted from the innocent looking blow fish, has gone missing from Dr. Millie Hunter's laboratory.  Hunter, a biochemist at Chubb University is the daughter of Patrick O'Donnell, Holloman's Chief Medical Examiner.  Millie informs her father that the missing vial is a deadly neurotoxin that shuts down the nervous system, which results in a horrific and nearly untraceable death.

Millie, and her husband, biochemist, Jim Hunter, attend a celebration dinner for the reunion of a father and his long-lost son, who is an old friend of the Hunter's.  The son, John Hall, dies before he finishes his last drink. Did the missing poison play a part? It would appear so due to the rapid onset of death. It was also certain that the poison was injected, rather than put in food or drink. How did the murderer accomplish that?

The Hunters are once again among the dinner guests at a Chubb University gala when another victim falls prey to the missing neurotoxin; through injection. Suspicions are flung far and wide but Captain Carmine Delmonico keeps coming back to Dr. Jim Hunter as the chief suspect. The only person, in his opinion, that would have had access, motive and knowledge. But - can he prove it?  Another death by the poison, this time administered in water, and a KGB style shooting of a presumably innocent victim confuses the issue. They are all connected - how?

Word of warning, the ending of The Prodigal Son is emotionally complex, something you may not have seen coming.  Stunning, surprising, culturally shocking, The Prodigal Son is traditional McCullough at her best.

A review copy of this book was received from Simon & Schuster Publishing. Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Morgan's Run, Antony and Cleopatra, and others.

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