THE SACRIFICIAL MAN - Ruth Dugdall
After reading Dugdall's first book THE WOMAN BEFORE ME I was kind of expecting something a bit wow from THE SACRIFICIAL MAN. Which it delivered in that sort of sock removing, what the, oh boy, cook your own dinner I'm reading, kind of way.
Mind you, it's a bit on the sneaky side. The story starts out with Cate Austin out of the prison system, working her first new assignment which is a sentencing recommendation for Alice Mariani. As explained in the blurb, Mariani helped her lover to die, and she is dealing with the consequences of that on a legal and a personal level. But it is the personal that is particularly interesting Austin as Mariani doesn't quite seem to be reacting to the death or it's consequences in a way that makes sense. It's that digging into Mariani's past - both by Austin, and in the way that the author reveals the truth, that makes THE SACRIFICIAL MAN a book that's going to stay with me for quite a long time.
There are a number of extremely good aspects to this book. The subject matter of assisted suicide and the potential outcomes is going to be confrontational for some readers, but it is a very current day issue, and this is a particularly instructive approach. There's certainly nothing sensationalised, judgemental or conclusive about the treatment. There's also a very complicated storyline which is handled deftly. The timeframe shift backwards and forwards between current day, and the time when Mariani and the man who died first meet, and the arrangement that they come to. The viewpoint also shifts between Mariani, as herself and using a pseudonym (as does the dead man which is why I'm not confusing the issue here by using his name) and that of Austin. It's also not an investigation of guilt or innocence as such, as Austin is looking to provide sentencing recommendations, for a woman who has already been found guilty.
I must admit I didn't notice when THE SACRIFICIAL MAN went from being "the book that I'm reading" to "the book that I must read" but it did. Somewhere in the middle of all of that backwards and forwards, perspective switching, something happened and the back story of Alice Mariani started to explain who she was. Somewhere there a man made a decision to die, looked for support, and set up a process that he thought was fair on everyone. Somewhere the wheels fell off that and consequences ensued. And ultimately a person tries to get to the bottom of those circumstances and come up with a recommendation on how those consequences will pay out. About there I suddenly found a depth, and some messages that I'm still thinking about.
When Probation Officer Cate Austin is given her new assignment, she faces the highest-profile case of her career. Alice Mariani helped her lover to die, and Cate has to recommend a sentence. But first she needs to understand.
Why did Alice agree to everything he asked of her?