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