Extreme Unction by JD Core is a mystery novel that tackles the legality of assisted suicide or euthanasia. Using religion as the backdrop for this ethical dilemma, Core weaves a mystery that attempts to solve the question, “Did Father Coneely use poisoned oil during the last rites to kill an already very sick man?” As a secondary mystery, why won’t Lupa Schwartz grant reporter Cattleya “Cat” Hoskin an interview? Cat’s father once worked for Lupa’s grandfather, who was a master detective. Lupa, now a great detective in his own right, has never shied away from media press so why won’t he grant Cat the interview she requests? Cat agrees to report on the investigation into the poisoned anointment oil death but that doesn’t mean that she’s willing to drop her demand for an interview with Schwartz. The two stories are deeply interwoven throughout the novel and provide an enticing mystery.
The mystery itself was curious and thought-provoking. When a sick Catholic man is hospitalized his family calls Father Coneely to administer Last Rites, just in case. After the man passes away it is discovered that the anointing oil had been poisoned! Father Coneely becomes the primary suspect not only because he administered the anointing oil but also because he was a vocal supporter of euthanasia and, just the previous night, had mentioned in conversation that he could euthanize someone by coating his fingers with candle wax and using poisoned oil. It doesn’t look so good for the Father but did he do it? Or is the guilty party someone after life insurance money or some other benefit? The idea was creative and compelling. While not as complex as it could have been and a little predictable in parts it still has the makings of a good mystery and, at less than 270 pages, is well worth the day or two it would take to read.
The opening paragraph of Extreme Unction was beautifully descript. It was a description of entering Pittsburgh at night and the beautiful panorama of the city. The words painted a wonderful picture of the city and I was captivated. However, in the very next paragraph the writing shifted and it became a first-person narrative that read similar to a private journal. It was a clumsy transition and I was disappointed in the text that followed. The well-written script from the first paragraph is never recaptured during the rest of the novel. The remainder of the story does not disappoint, it just becomes more heavily focused on content and less on written presentation. There are certainly flaws in the writing as there are grammatical errors, spelling errors and the occasional instance where a word was either omitted or misused. I found that I enjoyed the plot of the story well enough to overlook the errors but they are notable and may frustrate a more detailed reader.
Extreme Unction is neither the most complex of mysteries nor the most beautifully written of novels but it does build a great mystery around a unique concept and involve very eccentric and likable characters. Lupa Schwartz, with his collection of antique cars, very routine schedule, and other oddities is both intriguing and very enjoyable. Cat Hoskin is determined and curious while Father Coneely draws out a reader’s sympathies despite being a likely murderer. It’s a great easy read.
Review by Ashley LaMarClosed the Cover