Review

The Prodigal Son: A Carmine Delmonico Novel

by Colleen McCullough

When Dr. Millie Hunter discovers that two vials of a lethal toxin have disappeared from her University laboratory, she confesses the loss to her father, Medical Examiner Dr. Patrick O'Donnell. Confiding in him may be an indication that her long estranged relationship with her parents is on the mend.

John Hall, Colleen McCullough's prodigal son, bears no resemblance to the one in the Bible. That young man had taken his inheritance and squandered it quickly on wine, women and raucous living. When he found himself mucking out pigpens for a bit to eat, he swallowed his pride and went home to beg his father's forgiveness. His father welcomed him home and threw a huge party in his honor. McCullough's prodigal returns home after many years to be reunited with his family, but someone poisons him on his first night back.

"Reading through this tale of mystery, one is continually wrong about “whodunit.” Just when it seems obvious who the murderer is, the evidence falls apart and it's back to square one."

McCullough is an Australian author of thrillers and is probably best known for THE THORN BIRDS. This tale about the return and demise of the prodigal son is the fourth in her Carmine Delmonico series. It is set in 1969, in the small Connecticut town of Holloman, where Delmonico is the Chief of Police and many of the local town leaders are related to one another by marriage or by blood.

The return of John Hall sets up something of a stir because his father, Max Tunbull, and his Yugoslavian wife have just had a baby boy who stood to be heir to his father's fortune until John appeared. When John is poisoned, suspicion falls on the other Tunbull heirs. However, there are no easy solutions to the murders and mayhem that follow. The list of suspects is broadened when a scholar at Chubb University is found murdered in the same way...by ingesting a deadly poison made from blowfish toxin. A toxin that is being studied at Chubb by Dr. Millie Hunter. A toxin that has disappeared from her lab under mysterious circumstances.

It is up to Chief Delmonico to sort out the pieces and uncover the connection between the murders and what, if any, relation they have to the return of his cousin, Dr. Millie Hunter, and her husband, Jim Hunter. They had kept their interracial marriage far away from disapproving friends and family for years, instead choosing to focus on their brilliant careers and on one another. They had returned to Holloman to work at the University and to complete Hunter's book that promised to set the scientific community abuzz.

Reading through this tale of mystery, one is continually wrong about “whodunit.” Just when it seems obvious who the murderer is, the evidence falls apart and it's back to square one. For those who enjoy drawing room stories, with many and varied characters, this will be an enjoyable read. However, it might be disappointing to those who are more accustomed to less characters and more action.

Reviewed by Maggie Harding on November 21, 2012

The Prodigal Son: A Carmine Delmonico Novel
by Colleen McCullough