Review - THE EXIT, Helen Fitzgerald
It's hard to know if there's a new "thing" in crime fiction, or it's just something that this reader has suddenly noticed - but there seems to have been a number of books recently that have used dementia as a core theme. Which might make for uncomfortable reading for those of us of a "certain age" with an increasing tendency to forget too many things.
THE EXIT is Helen Fitzgerald's eleventh book, and it's pitched very much as psychological suspense. The story is told mainly from the point of view of two women. 82 year old Rose, a resident of Dear Green, a small private nursing home in Glasgow, she's been an independent woman with a past writing extremely successful books. Whilst part of her mind is definitely suffering the impacts of increasing dementia, there is much that's lucid and strong. As is always the way with this disease she has recall of her past, and a more murky awareness of the current. The other voice is that of 23 year old Catherine. Forced into finally getting a job by her domineering mother, Catherine's an odd combination of adult and child.
Seemingly lucking out into a job that she doesn't want, Catherine is so self-absorbed at no stage does she wonder why it is that she's been hired. She doesn't even seem to twig that there's something odd about the man who owns the nursing home (and lives on site) and how many of the staff have slightly sinister overtones. She also has a major problem with old people, although for some reason she's able to form some sort of relationship / friendship with Rose - who is desperate to get the message out about questionable goings on in one of the rooms at the nursing home, always around the same time.
Now at this point things start to declare themselves in bright lights, with follow me arrows. Catherine finds odd entries in the care logs, and eventually finds herself agreeing with Rose that something might be not quite right at Dear Green. She also experiences, and witnesses some decidedly odd sexual behaviour and yet still, doesn't quite seem able to join the dots, although by now some readers might be dangerously close to page chewing territory.
Late on in the piece there's a noble piece of distraction applied with Catherine's mother suddenly declaring terminal illness, a desire to die at Dear Green and the confession that Catherine's job was a setup all along. At which point this reader struggled with an already faltering grip on suspension of disbelief. A lot of this element of the plot appeared to be included only to provide a device by which the lights could be turned up even brighter, and the resolution turned from hints to a bit of battering Catherine over her dumb head until she finally managed to get a synapse to flick to the on position.
Points, however, to THE EXIT for the elderly character of Rose who is one of those "Rage, rage against the dying of the light types", hugely sympathetic and funny into the bargain. Points as well for the characterisation of Catherine who seems to epitomise a lot that people keep saying is wrong with "the young folk these days". The plot however sinister and discomforting it might be, wasn't best served by the guiding lights and the obviousness, especially as the horribleness of the entire concept seemed to deserve something more ... I don't know, lacking inevitability.
23-year-old Catherine is mainly interested in Facebook and flirting, but she reluctantly takes a job at a local care home after her mother puts her foot down - and soon discovers that her new workplace contains many secrets.
One of the residents at the home, 82-year-old Rose, is convinced that something sinister is going on in Room 7 and that her own life is under threat. But Rose has dementia - so what does she actually know, and who would believe her anyway?
As Catherine starts investigating Rose's allegations, terrible revelations surface about everyone involved. Can Catherine find out what's really going on before it's too late?