by Sandra Murphy
Details on how to enter to win a copy of Blackout at the end of this review, along with a link to purchase the book where a portion goes to help support KRL.
A young, battered woman walks down the highway, hoping for a ride but where will she say she’s headed? When a car does stop, she isn’t sure she should get in but what other option is there? The man asks her name and then she realizes she doesn’t know what it is.
That’s the beginning of the story, or the end of one and the start of another. The girl gives herself the name, Alice Strong. Her new life includes renting a room from an older woman, Hannah, friendship with Donald, the man who gave the ride to California and a job at the Merry Hills Nursing Home. She’s an aide, tasked with dressing, cleaning and feeding residents, turning them every two hours to prevent bed sores, and encouraging them to participate in activities like bingo or “sing-along.”
Some of the patients are mobile but not as lucid as they once were, some are in wheelchairs and a few are paralyzed or too frail to get out of bed. Betty, the nursing administrator, has her own mother at the facility. Betty Senior’s stroke left her paralyzed from the neck down.
One of the facility favorites is Lettie. She’s a former math teacher who wanders the halls and asks, “Do you know me?” of everyone she meets. Her husband, Thomas, is devoted to her. As Alice gets to know the residents and other employees, she’s feeling better but doesn’t admit her amnesia. What if they thought she was crazy and put her in a home or mental hospital?
Nancy shows her where everything is and gives her basic training. Alice is then paired with Jenny. The death of a resident sparks a memory for Alice–she thinks it’s of her grandmother, Nana, but nothing more comes to mind.
Deaths occur in nursing homes, of course, but at Merry Hills, they seem to be too frequent. Two of the bodies had their arms crossed in front of them as they would be in a casket, not something a dying patient would do themselves. Betty is convinced there’s a killer in the home, but is it a mercy killing or something more sinister? Even her police officer nephew, Jarod, doesn’t believe her.
One death happens during the annual inspection. Management bonuses are based on the inspection scores and Betty’s disappointed her score isn’t higher. It’s due to the number of bed sores found on the patients. Either aides are not turning the patients as often as they should and are lying on the documentation or there are other factors to consider.
With each traumatic encounter, Alice remembers more, until she decides this is not her first blackout. Which is scarier? To remember or to not know? Either can be dangerous.
There are sub-plots as well. Margaret in the kitchen is a good employee but a terrible boss, Nancy has a secret of her own, a newspaper reporter brings the unnatural deaths to light, Donald and Alice pass friendship into something a bit more and Betty’s love life sparks with Thomas, Lettie’s husband. When is it okay for a spouse to move on? Lettie has been at the home for over a year and Thomas misses her companionship. Betty doesn’t date married men, but does Thomas still count as married?
Each memory Alice has is worse than the one before. Surely, her whole life couldn’t have been like that? She can’t be sure until it’s all figured out.
I did sift through the suspects (and included Alice) and guessed the right one as the killer, but not the motive or the ending. Although I learned a lot more than I care to know about nursing homes, the information was scattered throughout the book and didn’t interfere with the plot as the reader learns about the facility along with Alice. The facility is shown in a good light but also with realism.
This was a satisfying read I found hard to put down. I do hope there will be a sequel. After all, readers will want to find out what happens to Alice.
To enter to win a copy of Blackout simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Blackout,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 27, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section. You can also find some short stories there written by Jan.
Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL: