In The Mad Hatter’s Son by Helen Starbuck, Annie Collins, an OR nurse, gets a phone call she will forever regret returning. Libby Matheisen, Annie’s former roommate from college and after, is a high- end painter whom Annie hasn’t seen in four years since Libby’s marriage to Edward, a rich computer specialist with whom Annie does not connect. So it is with surprise that Annie gets a message from Libby to call her. Libby tells Annie that she had a miscarriage recently and has never been well since, with a vague set of symptoms like depression, achiness, and hair loss. She wants to hire Annie to care for her, though her husband makes Annie sternly aware that he believes any problems Libby may have are post-pregnancy-related depression and that she doesn’t need Annie’s care.
Annie soon discovers that Libby is a difficult patient, not letting her get certain tests run and complaining a lot. The last straw comes when the pair run into a man at the farmers market, someone Libby clear knew and seemed to react to strongly, but whom she refuses to discuss with Annie. When Annie arranges to meet with the man, Jeff Davies, she learns that he had a two-year affair with Libby, but she cut things off upon learning about her pregnancy, which she never disclosed to him. As Libby still refuses to discuss things with Annie, Annie decides that this job is not for her and leaves. But then the next day, a man gets sent to the ER after having gotten beaten up outside his work within an inch of his life and needs major surgery. Unfortunately, however, a week or so later, Jeff dies. And before long Libby has died, supposedly of suicide, but Annie thinks that unlikely.
Annie gets involved in the case to research what happened to Libby despite the objections of Annie’s boyfriend and lawyer next- door- neighbor. But even if she gets to the truth, will the truth be too much for Annie to handle?
The Mad Hatter’s Son starts out as a nice- seeming, maybe a little slow, book, but it quickly turns into a book that grabs ahold of the listener. The plot was of interest, though I guessed the identity of the criminal before I was halfway through the book, so instead it turned into a how-dunnit instead of a who-dunnit. The book did keep me listening, though it was a little intense for my mild tastes.
I did appreciate the quality of how the characters were depicted, so I could picture even Annie’s OB nurse friend, Maddy, who is not a major character in the book. Our image of Libby changes as we get to see her through the different lenses of the different people who knew her. Often a character who insists on pushing for a solution comes across as less than believable, but we accept Annie’s persistence as natural to her identity.
Suzanne T. Fortin performs the audio edition of The Mad Hatter’s Son. I recently listened to her perform The Hanged Man’s Noose and was even more impressed by her this time than in that book. She takes us through the gamut of emotions experienced by Annie, whether excitement, love, fear, or numbness. I appreciate her perspective on bringing this book to life on audio.
Though The Mad Hatter’s Son is not my typical style of mystery, I thought it a strong book. I liked the way things unfold slowly, but I would have preferred not to have the identity of the criminal be as obvious as it was to me long before I should have been able to start guessing, especially since I am not usually one to guess at the identity while listening to a mystery, focusing more on the process than guessing the identity. I did appreciate the book in general and give it four stars.
Disclaimer: I received this audiobook free through Audiobook BOOM, but that had no effect on the content of my review.
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