Author: Michelle Knowlden*
Genre: Mystery, Novella
"For all the stupid reasons people get married, seems like caring for the dying is the kindest."
College student Leslie Greene is already nervous about starting her "job" as an Abishag wife, an unorthodox hospice worker paid to lay in bed beside a dying, comatose man--in this case 83-year old businessman Thomas Crowder. Leslie anticipates personal scandal, loss of friends, and an end to her dating life. She does not anticipate finding the day nurse lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, throat slashed, dead.
Suddenly, Leslie finds herself embroiled in a mystery involving family secrets, blackmail, and the wreck of a Portuguese ship. And the danger keeps growing. An Abishag wife must watch over her husband--till death do they part. But who will die first: Thomas... or Leslie?
When I first heard the premise of an Abishag wife, I couldn't believe it. Who would pay for this service? It can't be real. Yet the concept is so thoroughly fleshed out in Sinking Ships and the character's reactions are so realistic that the more I read, the more I found myself thinking, You know, I can actually see some rich, eccentric families paying for the "therapy" of having a young girl warm the bed of their dying father. It's a testament to Ms. Knowlden's writing that she can take a speculative element like the Abishag wife, wrap it in a mystery, and still make you believe this story can exist in the real world.
A large part of it has to do with the characters, especially the protagonist. Leslie is a compulsive rule-follower with a streak of inward defiance, a detached professional who forms a sentimental bond with her dying husband. These contradictions make her all at once human and all at once fascinating. The heart of this book is really her (non-romantic) relationship with Thomas. It's surprising that she can form any kind of bond a comatose man, let alone such a tender one. The scenes where Leslie interacts with Thomas are some of the best in the book.
The story is not perfect. The first three chapters run a bit slow for my taste, though it picks up in Chapter 4, when the audience gets to see what an Abishag's job actually entails. The mystery was fine, but I had difficulty keeping track of some of the suspects and the mystery concludes a little abruptly. All in all, though, I felt the characters were great, the premise fascinating, and the description was lovely. It really made me think about death and love and the ways in which we perceive others. I recommend it.
* Michelle Knowlden is a friend of mine and I did Beta read her book. Even so, if I hadn't enjoyed it, I wouldn't have reviewed it.