Clear and Convincing Proof
Clear and Convincing Proof is a gripping, psychological mystery. At times claustrophobic and creepy, at others a neat, puzzling mystery. Murder has been done and there are plenty of possible suspects and a storyline with all the clues in place. So why then is this only a middling grade? It’s the people. Though each character is realistic enough, there’d nobody to root for. Ms. Wilhelm does her job too well. She portrays real people with real dysfunctions and failings. But when all is said and done, I just didn’t enjoy myself.
The mystery centers on the Kelso/McIvey rehab clinic. The clinic is a labor of love for its directors Naomi and Greg Boardman, for physical therapist Dr. Darren Halvord, for many others on the board and staff, and for volunteer Annie McIvey. The fly in the ointment is Annie’s neurosurgeon husband David. He has just inherited half ownership of the nonprofit clinic and plans to turn it into a high cost, surgery facility. Observing it all is Erica Castle, a newcomer to the area who inherited a fixer-upper from her grandmother. If she wants to get a paying job, she’ll need to have local recommendations. Her realtor suggests volunteer work at the clinic.
Seeing the clinic and its inhabitants through the eyes of a newcomer Erica is an effective storytelling devise in a mystery. The reader can explore and examine the relationships right along with Erica yet never be sure just how true a picture she’s getting or giving. That makes for a great build-up of tension. Everyone hates David McIvey and no one is surprised he’s dead, but just who’s responsible? The police suspect his wife Annie. They’re convinced that she conspired with her lover, Dr. Halvord. Erica isn’t convinced and neither is anyone else. Enter series protagonist Barbara Holloway. She’s the attorney hired by the rehab center’s board to defend Annie and Darren.
Ms. Wilhelm paced her book very deliberately. She spent a good chunk of time setting up the mystery and drawing the reader into the emotionally tense world the victim and suspects inhabit. That makes for very effective mystery plotting but it also acts as a distancing factor in terms of the characters. The mood is dark and foreboding, the characters are complex and difficult, and the book should have held my attention. It didn’t.
The series’ protagonist, Barbara Holloway, doesn’t show up for a third of the book, and that’s why the author lost me. That’s the distancing factor. Wilhelm writes some stand-alones, but this isn’t one of them. It says so right on the cover: “A Barbara Holloway Novel.” Part of what draws me to mystery series is the chance to interact with a character and his/her companions from book to book. Whatever the mystery she/he is investigating, I want to reconnect with the protagonist. Since Barbara showed up so late, it just never happened in this book.
Ms. Wilhelm writes with a sure and confident hand. She knows just where her story is going and just what her characters are capable of doing. All of that being said, I enjoyed the results in her first Barbara Holloway novel – Death Qualified – and her standalone Skeletons far more then I did this one.