Australian novelist Colleen McCullough, known for her Masters of Rome series of historical fiction, has returned with her latest instalment of the Carmine Delmonico mystery thrillers.
Set in the fictional town of Holloman in Connecticut amidst the turbulent 1960s, this series revolves around the homicide cases that Italian-American detective Delmonico has had to solve. The Prodigal Son is the fourth book in the series and deals with the theft of a powerful neurotoxin obtained from blowfish. Six ampoules of tetrodotoxin have been stolen from the laboratory of prominent biochemist Millie Hunter, who happens to be Delmonico's niece. She reports the theft to her father, county medical examiner Patrick O'Donnell who gets Delmonico to look into the matter.
Gripping: Colleen McCullough's new Carmine Delmonico novel
When the bodies start piling up following two deaths at a gala dinner and a subsequent black-tie function, the suspicion falls on Millie's husband Jim, whose controversial book on intelligent design is about to be launched. Jim has faced scandal for much of his life for being a black man married to a white woman and his book chim on the path to greatness. Delmonico's investigation leads him into the murky waters of academic publishing and puts him on a collision course with jealous relatives as well as those with vested interests in Jim Hunter's so-called work. With insight from his wife Desdemona, Carmine discovers that Jim and Millie's marriage is not what it seems to be, but he fails to prevent further tragedy from happening at the launch of Jim's book.
McCullough proves herself a competent master of suspense with The Prodigal Son, building up the tension until the final few pages, with a number of red herrings thrown in the way. The use of a rare neurotoxin as a murder weapon adds an interesting dimension to the plot. A must-read for those who cannot get enough of murder investigations and police procedurals. The 1960s setting undoubtedly adds colour to the setting, as that was the time when race relations in America were tense.