The Abortionist’s Daughter
by Elisabeth Hyde
I read about The Abortionist’s Daughter in a New York Times article about the murder of Dr. Tiller. It sounded interesting to me–the murder of an abortion provider who advocated nationally provides plenty of suspects.
The Abortionist’s Daughter starts after Diana Duprey, the titular abortionist, is found dead in her swimming pool. Her husband just had a fight with her, as did her daughter, and the pro-life demonstrators who protest around her office daily have people among them who tend towards violence (although they are disavowed by their leader, the Reverend Stephen O’Connell). Detectives Huck and Ernie are put on the case, and her husband is prime suspect number one. But there are darker secrets in the Duprey family…
While the novel follows different characters, we are introduced to her husband, Frank, and her daughter, Megan, first. Numbly, Frank cleans up a broken glass he threw during an argument because he doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea, which gives you the right idea about Frank’s character. There is a great deal of focus on Megan, since the killer is from her past. She’s a rebellious college student, who grew up with astounding freedom for a teenager, due to Diana’s views on childcare. Stephen O’Connell is particularly sympathetic, a vehement pro-life advocate who puts his money where his mouth is–he opens his home to teenage mothers. Hyde’s characters are done quite well, save the killer. From the outset, they’re presented as creepy and villainous. You certainly feel vindicated when they confess, but not surprised or shocked.
Hyde has a wonderful way of phrasing things just so every once in a while–female arousal is described as “steely”, and Diana makes sounds in labor “like Darth Vader”. Except for these occasional gems, Hyde’s writing is efficient, moving easily from one character to the next. For a murder mystery, I find such efficient writing to be a good trait–I’m reading for the plot, not the prose.
The novel doesn’t present one side or the other in the abortion as right or wrong. Megan has conflicted feelings about what she does, and Diana and Stephen get along surprisingly well, after they acknowledge there’s nothing they can do to change each other’s minds. Diana and the constant protesters around the clinic have settled into a sort of routine–she can tell which miscarried fetus posters they’ll use on what days. Diana refuses to perform abortions for girls who are not absolutely certain about their choice, much to the ire of a local couple with a pregnant daughter. I liked that–while the characters have their minds made up, the author simply leaves the matter be.
The novel moves quite well until the second half. Megan is conflicted over the possibility that Frank may have killed her mother, and flees the hotel they’re staying in. The only other person she feels safe with is Huck, the detective. Huck, having seen evidence that puts Megan in a very different light, is awkward around her. Up to that point, it’s believable. Huck has a doting and wonderful girlfriend, who cheers up his apartment with little touches, and who is, at the moment, visiting her ailing mother. So, yes, it is weird to have a college student you’ve seen naked in your apartment. They argue about Megan staying there for a few days, and then they have sex. Let me repeat: a detective in a relationship cheats on his nice girlfriend with a girl he barely knows and could be, for all they know, the murderer.
This threw me for a massive loop. Not only was it wildly out of place, it also served to make Huck look like an asshole–he cheated on his nice girlfriend with a college student he barely knew. What on earth was Hyde thinking? The worst part is, this new relationship dominates the second half of the novel. We are meant to root for a guy who cheated on his girlfriend with a college student grieving for her dead mother and conflicted over her family. Sorry, I can’t do that.
The second disappointment comes with the murderer and their motive, which has absolutely nothing to do with what Diana did for a living. I can’t elaborate, else I would spoil the entire novel. Why make Diana such a polarizing figure if it had nothing to do with her death? This is the same reason I hate Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, though I usually love her novels–the ending renders all the character development moot. The murderer is someone everyone ought to suspect. I honestly thought that, after the first description of the murderer, that it couldn’t be them… that would be much too obvious! But no. It’s almost childishly simple.
Bottom line: A subpar murder mystery with a promising start, but disappointing end. If you want an intriguing mystery about the murder of a pro-choice advocate, look elsewhere–this isn’t it.
I rented this book from the public library.