Dugdall continues to explore the intersection of damaged people and the British legal system in her latest thriller.
When a man named Smith meets a woman named Robin, the two conspire to end his life. Smith is fully on board; he even advertises for a beautiful woman to help him commit suicide. That leads him to Alice Mariani, who chooses the pseudonym “Robin” in her dealings with Smith. After Smith manages to commit the deed with Alice’s help, she steps forward and takes credit, not only for helping him kill himself, but also for one final defiant act: She has eaten Smith’s penis. Alice says it was what Smith wanted and that he desired that his flesh live on in hers, but probation officer Cate Austin—Dugdall’s stock go-to character—doesn’t fully believe the story Alice is telling. Austin must recommend to the court whether or not Alice should serve an active prison sentence or commitment to a mental hospital, but it becomes clear once Austin starts examining Alice’s past life and talent for the dramatic that the beautiful college lecturer is more interested in avoiding a punishment she doesn’t feel she deserves than real justice. In addition to the book’s research flaws, Dugdall’s characters fail to ring true. Alice, in particular, is entirely without redeeming characteristics, making it difficult for readers to empathize with her. Dugdall also piles on so many shocking revelations that instead of raising the interest of readers, all of the depravity weighs down the rather thin plot and sinks it. The author compounds the tale’s problems by again opting for an odd structure that switches back and forth between points of view and tenses. Ultimately, what’s left is a convoluted story about a woman whose fate, while interesting, is not very compelling.
Dugdall’s fans may find this effort pleasing, but the author’s choices will turn off some potential readers.