If you've been plotting the career trajectory of Peter Clement over the course of his last couple of books, you have undoubtedly noticed that he is improving by leaps and bounds. He has never written a bad book, but he seems to have been working toward writing that one novel that would ensconce him firmly upon that 'A' list of writers who don't need to be on a list --- you automatically remember them and their novels.
Everything in MORTAL REMAINS is just about perfect, from the quiet creepiness of the opening paragraphs as a rural county sheriff and physician-coroner make a grisly underwater discovery that solves a decades-old disappearance and opens a murder investigation, to the closing chapters, wherein Clement sets the reader chasing along multiple plot lines in races against death.
Dr. Earl Garnet, a familiar figure to Clement's readers is back, but MORTAL REMAINS is more the story of Dr. Mark Roper, a physician with ties to rural upstate New York and the sorrows of his past. His duties as part-time coroner result in his discovery of the mortal remains of Kelly McShane, missing for over a quarter-century. Roper's discovery brings him into direct contact with Garnet, who has a secret about McShane.
Roper has his own history with McShane --- she was his babysitter and a patient of his father --- and as a result both men have a vested interest in discovering who ended her life so violently, and why. Their investigation begins to uncover secrets that have lain buried and fallow for over a quarter-century, but that are no less dangerous once revealed. Garnet and Roper discover that, as they slowly stumble toward the truth, they are placing themselves and those around them in terrible danger.
Roper has an additional complication. His new resident, Lucy O'Connor, seems too good to be true, and may well be. Her arrival is almost too precipitous to be random, and she seems to have ties to the area that she is reticent to reveal. Roper must determine whether she will be his salvation --- or his worst nightmare.
Clement's plotting and pacing in MORTAL REMAINS is absolutely first-rate, and while a good bit of this finely written novel takes place in a hospital (it is, after all, a medical thriller) Clement provides a nice change of pace by moving a good deal of the action to rural New York. His introduction of Roper as an unconventional general practitioner who is the ideal match for his rural patient base is handled perfectly. Roper is too good a character to be consigned to literary oblivion; we'll hopefully see him in a novel of his own in the near future. And Peter Clement has become too good a writer to be known only to a limited audience. If you haven't read Clement before, jump on MORTAL REMAINS now.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011