Not the Deaths Imagined by Anne Pettigrew
Beth Semple, the narrator of Anne Pettigrew’s terrific first novel the medical Tartan noir Not the Life Imagined, is back in an even better sequel, Not the Deaths Imagined. Still a GP in Glasgow, Beth becomes embroiled once more in a story of deaths and deceit and dodgy doctors. This time, though, Beth herself is in jeopardy, along with her family, and the book gallops along to a rousing and frightening climax.
As with the first novel, Not the Deaths Imagined is mostly narrated by Beth herself, and we get her highly moral, utterly decent view of a world which becomes increasingly murky. Interspersed throughout, though, are third person interludes where we are taken into the viewpoints of the other characters, particularly the dodgy ones, and this gives the novel a pleasing balance. The story unfolds and the reader is taken on the journey of good (Beth) and evil (David Goodman). We know a clash is coming and we wait nervously for it to happen. Supporting Beth along the way are a number of her friends whom we first me in Not the Life Imagined.
David Goodman is a doctor in another practice in Glasgow, one with which Beth’s practice has a reciprocal agreement for out of hours cover. It is during one of these occurrences that Beth is asked to sign a “Part Two” form for a recently deceased patient, permitting the body to be released for cremation. Beth, unable to honestly say she can agree the cause of death, refuses to sign. This honest, dutiful act sets in train the frightening events of the novel.
Goodman, it becomes clear, is a multiple killer, bumping off his more elderly or vulnerable patients having first ensured their wills have been changed to include him. Nothing much, not more than £5000 or a painting each time. Not enough to draw attention. Enough to be lucrative. Besides, there is the thrill of the act, which never diminishes.
Goodman is clearly insane, and it is notoriously difficult to write such characters effectively. Either they are too normal and the reader can’t buy into it, or the writer tends to ham things up so much the character ends up like Chief Inspector Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther films, driven to raging madness by Clouseau and his incompetence. Anne Pettigrew avoids these extremes and in the process she creates a deliciously monstrous villain.
It is obvious from reading the novel that the author was a GP herself. Her familiarity with medicine and general practice gives an air of authenticity and credibility to the drama that unfolds, so that you can implicitly believe what you are reading. Not the Deaths Imagined rattles along pleasingly and the reader is drawn into Beth’s increasingly frightening world, willing the deaths imagined not to include her or hers. In a dramatic climax, the answer to that hangs in the balance...