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The Dying Five

by Jennifer Wright-Berryman

Rating: ****

There appears to be no motive for the murder of Eric Graham, CEO of a green company start-up, although the words he whispers with his last breath to Shana, his Head Accountant, indicate otherwise.

When Shana tells her terminally ill grandfather, Charles, about Eric’s murder, Charles knows this is a case for “The Dying Five”, (TD5) a secret society of, understandably, changing members operating from Courseview Hospice, all of whom are receiving palliative care.

As Eric’s murder uncovers duplicity on a huge scale and another employee of “Green Playscapes” is killed, “The Dying Five” have to, against the odds, act fast, but are all the “Hospice Heroes” exactly who they purport to be?...

At first glance, The Dying Five looks to be a light-hearted, cozy whodunnit sprinkled with end-of-life gallows humor. Undeniably, the novel contains those elements but an awful lot more.

In many respects, it’s more of a “who are they” than a whodunnit as practically every character in the novel is hiding something that may or may not be connected to the Green Playscapes plot.

Further, Wright-Berryman utilizes various perspectives and methods to bring a fairly complex and unusual narrative to life while maintaining momentum and interest. Overall, she is successful and The Dying Five is a book I shall remember for quite some time.

The novel opens straight into Eric Graham’s murder and Wright-Berryman is careful to gift the reader a couple of intriguing clues but no more. Chapter 2 switches to a completely different direction, written in first-person from the viewpoint of Callie O’Malley, the social worker who is the de facto leader of TD5.

Through Callie’s chatty, conversational, and occasionally irreverent voice that is directly addressed to the reader, we learn all about TD5; its inception, purpose, funding, and more. There is a lot to process in these opening chapters and it occasionally feels a little overloaded, with several competing tangents that are quite surprising.

Notwithstanding, the novel begins to take flight a short way in and becomes cohesive and compelling to read. The murder mystery is well-constructed, dovetailing neatly with the sub-plots, and discovering the truth about TD5 is as intriguing as finding out who killed Eric Graham and why.

The members of TD5 are all sharply individual, bringing their particular talents to the team. Some of these strengths are borne from personal journeys and, as more of their backstories are uncovered, they evolve into fully developed characters who not only have intriguing pasts but also, important futures, however brief.

Stephen is the only personality that is a little nebulous, although there are reasons for this. There are twists and turns for all the cast but especially for him and some fail to persuade. However, the dynamic between TD5 members, although shifting, is nicely convincing.

Although large areas of the novel are written in the third person, the whole narrative is drawn together by Callie’s jaunty tone and tumbling wit. She is a warm, authentic character, acting as a conductor not only for TD5 but also for the reader.

She has her issues and addresses these with thought-provoking honesty. The ambiguity surrounding her decision-making at the end of the novel was a brave move but clever; transferring objectivity to the reader, who can’t help but imagine themself in her position.

Wright-Berryman explores profound and weighty themes in The Dying Five, not all of which concern mortality. Nonetheless, this is not a morbid or sentimental novel, death is approached and accepted with matter-of-fact candor while life is gently celebrated.

Wright-Berryman has written a clever and twisty tale in The Dying Five driven by a collection of original, engaging characters and offering much food for contemplation. Well worth a read.

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