Maladies of the Mind by Betty Boudreau Vaughan

Maladies of the Mind

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In Vaughan’s (I’ll Buy You an Ox, 1997) drama, a Canadian woman’s determination to learn what would lead to a person’s suicide turns into a full-blown obsession.

Zoé LeBlanc, administrative assistant at a morgue, is performing the autopsy of Cheska Murphy. Cheska’s death by carbon monoxide poisoning and the note she left behind seem to confirm a suicide. Zoé, however, who’s obsessed with death, becomes preoccupied with Cheska, starting with applying for the office administrator job that Cheska previously held at Saint Cecilia’s Church. Zoé learns what she can from the priests, including the blind Father Grace, as well as the street people who regularly come to the church for food or coins. The obsession takes Zoé to a psychiatric ward where Cheska might have stayed, then all the way over to Ireland, the place of Cheska’s summer retreats. Readers starting this novel may think they’re getting a thriller: it begins with Zoé at a crime scene, an apparent drowning. But this is merely an introduction to a fascinating protagonist as this opening death promptly exits the narrative. Zoé may have OCD, a possibility she acknowledges—though perhaps in jest—and later firmly rejects. She repeatedly gets out of bed at night to ensure that her front door is locked. Although there’s no real suggestion that Cheska’s death is murder, there’s plenty of mystery surrounding the suicide to make readers, like Zoé, relentlessly curious. Cheska, for one, had been close to Father Grace but didn’t like Father Kelby, and she’d written letters to Father Grace in braille, which Zoé needs someone to translate. Zoé is naturally inquisitive, a suitable attribute for a pseudo-investigator, but this sometimes leads to scenes that have little or nothing to do with Cheska, like nurse friend Estelle telling Zoé about patients in the neurology unit. Zoé becomes more endearing the more readers learn about her—she’s a widow, for example—and it’s fitting that the book’s final act focuses almost solely on her in an emotional coda with a demise or two that may generate tears.

Thanks to an unyielding protagonist, a surprisingly upbeat story of death and suicide.

Publisher: FriesenPress
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015


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