Saturday, June 9, 2012

"The Grief Shop" by Vicki Stiefel

Tally White is a homicide counsellor for a Grief Assistance Program in Massachusetts, in which she helps the survivors of homicide victims cope with their loss. One night, somebody breaks into the office of the Chief Medical Examiner and leaves the body of nine-year-old Rose for Tally to find. With her is the message "Sins Of The Father". She immediately calls her friend Sgt. Rob Kranak to the scene.

Events only become more twisted. Rose's best friend is missing, possibly in the clutches of the killer. And Tally's foster mother Dr. Veda Barrows - the Chief Medical Examiner herself - is in the hospital with a mysterious ailment that has cost her her memory and appears to be slowly killing her. A brief encounter with a nurse leads Tally to believe that Veda's condition is linked to the dead and missing girls. More dead bodies start piling up and there even appear to be links to artworks stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust (Veda is a Holocaust survivor). Tally and Rob must find out the truth, whilst Tally also struggles to keep the Grief Assistance Program afloat whilst Veda's successors try to dismantle it.

In the hands of a more capable author, "The Grief Shop" could have been a really cracking thriller. There are plenty of plot twists and lots of intrigue. The characters are well-defined and believable. The love triangle that develops between Tally, her boyfrriend Hank Cunningham and Rob Kranak, whom she suddenly finds herself developing feelings for, doesn't feel forced. The problem is that as the story races towards its climax, it becomes increasingly sillier, and the why-who-what behind events becomes increasingly cloudier. What exactly was done to Veda to turn her into a near-zombie and basically kill her? It's never really explained. Who actually kidnapped young Becky? Was it the killer? One of the killer's associates? Or her parents? It's never really explained. The inordinate amount of time spent with the art gallery owner and their Nazi artworks clues the reader in that it has some sort of bearing on the plot. Yet, when all is revealed, there is never a convincing or tangible explanation as to how the artwork is connected to the kidnapping and murdering of young girls. It appears as if Stiefel had a smattering of good ideas, threw them all in, then failed to adequately link them all. I think it's telling that Stiefel published one more book after this (this one is actually the third in a series) and then fell off the radar.

"The Grief Shop" isn't a complete loss. If anything, the biggest disappointment is that it falls short of being something special. As mentioned, the pace is consistent with plenty of intrigue and well-paced action. But a little more explanation behind the "why" of everything would have really helped proceedings.

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