Worst Case Scenario

Written by Helen FitzGerald

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Worst Case Scenario
Orenda Publishing
RRP: £8.99
Released: May 16 2019

The concise nature of this novel conceals the depth that this narrative plumbs, provoking thought as it ‘entertains’. It is an angry book, one that has insight and social commentary that makes us look at the reality of what we term ‘social work’, from the pen of the writer of TV’s ‘The Cry’. It is also very funny, but painted with a dark and terse wit.

This punchy little book is centred around the changes in Mary Shields’ existence as she reaches midlife. For a woman like Mary Shields, midlife is not a crisis that results in buying a Harley Davidson or a Porsche, but in Fitzgerald’s world - it’s about managing the psychological as well as physical changes in the body and the mind.

Mary is number 84737 working Glasgow’s social-care system, a probation officer involved in the care of some of the most troubled, and troubling of people such as sex-offenders. In the case of Dr Liam Macdowall, she is assigned to keep him under ‘supervision’ after a conditional release from Prison. Ten years ago, he murdered his wife Bella in a botched murder-suicide. He survived and was incarcerated.

On the eve of his release under ‘licence’, we learn of his infamy now striated with minor celebrity. Macdowall, the Doctor of geography has penned a book entitled ‘Cuck: Letters to my Dead Wife’ which collates a series of letters / notes written posthumously to his wife Bella, one that has its supporters, other men who have been reacting adversely to the so-called #metoo movement.  The book’s release is coinciding with Macdowall’s release from prison, under the aforementioned license, as well as Mary’s resignation from her job in criminal/offender social-care.

Mary is struggling to cope with her life. She’s fifty-two, menopausal, drinks too much, and now looking forward to leaving a profession that has taken its toll on her, and her family life.

Enter the characters that form an orbit around Macdowall. There’s his muse, publisher/agent - the creepy Derek McLaverty a Men’s Rights Activist and a former wife beater with the punch-able face. Then there’s the Doctor of geography’s daughter Holly, who Mary dislikes as equally as she does the poster-boy for toxic masculinity Derek McLaverty.

The title alludes to (among other events), an attraction Mary’s son Jack develops toward Macdowall’s daughter Holly; a relationship that acts as the spine for this book.

Fitzgerald’s narrative intertwines her background as a writer and social-worker - providing insights into publishing and the bureaucracy inherent in the ‘public services'. Though it is the bleak, dark wit that makes this troubling narrative captivating, trapping the reader within the tale.

There are moments when you laugh out loud, then pause and realise that it is perhaps inappropriate to find mirth in such darkness; but they say Humour and Horror are notches on the same coping mechanism we have in managing the turbulence that blows through our lives. Sometimes this metaphoric wind has the power to lift off the roof that shields the reality of our houses, of our lives.

After the moral ambiguity of The Cry, and Helen Fitzgerald’s preceding novels, this is a powerfully shocking little book, one that punches well above its weight.

You won’t require a bookmark, but you will require a pot of coffee and perhaps something stronger, when you put the book down because it will stay with you.

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