Practically the first job social worker Anita Servi has to tackle after getting hired as Susan Wu’s assistant at Neighbors Aiding Neighbors, the Upper West Side community center, is discovering Susan’s body. Just like six elderly residents of the area, she’s lying with a plastic bag over her head and a copy of Final Exit, that invaluable how-to guide to suicide, by her side. Despite the evidence, Neville, the ex-cop local security-guard, becomes suspicious. He nudges Anita, who’s intruded on prior cases of his (Guilty Mind, 2001, etc.), to find out privileged details about her clients and agency, and Anita responds with facts about (1) a nurse who’s pocketing pills, including the lethal oxycodone; (2) the president of the Board of Directors, who’s overly fussy about locking up certain file drawers; (3) the treasurer, who was executor named in many of the apparent suicides’ wills; (4) a disbanded “Issues of Later Life” group now holding their discussions in semi-secrecy; and (5) large bequests left to Neighbors Aiding Neighbors by all those obliging suicides. More will die, some leaping ahead of the latter stages of dementia or cancer, others pushed by a less-than-friendly hand, before Neville, Anita, and one of New York’s finest zero in on the various misdeeds, not many of which can be proved in a court of law.
Marcuse has perceptive things to say about geriatric foibles and abuses, although the most telling exchanges are reserved for Anita and her not-quite-yet-adopted daughter Clea.