Twelve years ago, Frankie Stapleton left the quiet town of Stillwater and moved to Chicago, leaving behind her family, their struggling hardware store, and her fiancé. Now an emergency room nurse, she’s back to help her pregnant sister, Charlie, and to put the past behind her, once and for all.
But within minutes of arriving at Stillwater General Hospital, Frankie walks into an ER overloaded with bus crash victims. Amidst the chaos, she stumbles upon a lone man suffering a cardiac arrest outside the ER bay. With no one to help him, Frankie acts to save the man’s life, despite the fact that she’s not licensed there.
After leaving the man in stable condition, Frankie finally makes it to Charlie’s bedside. But mere hours later, her patient is dead, her sister has undergone an emergency C-section, and Frankie has been slapped with the threat of a malpractice lawsuit.
Something’s not right in Stillwater, and Frankie suspects her patient didn’t die of natural causes. With her career on life support and a growing rift between Frankie and the family she left behind years ago, Frankie must catch a killer to clear her name in Time of Death, Lucy Kerr’s enthralling mystery debut.
Lucy Kerr, pen name of YA novelist Erica O’Rourke, debuts on the adult fiction scene with the mystery Time of Death. The first entry in the Stillwater General mystery series Time of Death reads like a most intriguing mash-up of the TV shows ER and Hart of Dixie (with a dash of St. Elsewhere for good measure)…think a mixture of suspense, real-life medical drama, and small-town secrets. With sharp and astute ER nurse Frankie Stapleton as our narrator and protagonist, readers are taken into the world of small-town hospital politics, suspected patient murder, and family drama.
When we meet thirty-something Frankie, she is on route to her small hometown of Stillwater, Illinois- the place she had essentially run away from twelve years before, leaving her family and old boyfriend behind. Frankie is on her way from Chicago where she works (and excels) as an emergency room nurse, back to Stillwater, to help care for her younger sister Charlie who is having unexpected complications with her second pregnancy. As Frankie comes in to town and Stillwater General hospital to see her sister and family, readers get an inside look into a bit of the tenuous history that Frankie has with her hometown and how complicated and uncomfortable her being back actually is. On top of everything else, as Frankie makes her way to the hospital, she comes to the rescue of an elderly man named Clem, who is struggling outside of the building, experiencing what appears to be a heart attack. As Frankie bursts her way into the security-lax Stillwater General, attempting to save Clem’s life, she soon finds herself heavily involved in an anomalous and possibly homicidal medical mishap that threatens her career and life.
There are two major plot lines, if you will, running in tandem over the course of Time of Death. One is that of Frankie’s return to Stillwater and the ramifications that has on her relationship with her mom, her sister, her niece, and the Stapleton family business- not to mention the implications her return has on her ex-boyfriend (currently Stillwater police officer) Noah. The second and overarching storyline is that of the mystery surrounding Clem’s sudden and ill-explained death. Clem’s death leads into Frankie’s involvement in investigating the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, and the frosty relationship that forms between her and Stillwater General’s hospital administration. Kerr weaves the back and forth between the two lines very well and easily, making for irresistible reading, though I would argue that certain elements come across as the more compelling. Without spoilers here, I will say that the reveal surrounding Clem’s death is relatively uncomplicated; while the medical explications and examinations on Frankie’s part are fascinating, I did find the wind-ups to the climax had a tendency to drag just a bit and rehash material already covered. I do think, however, that the core elements involving Frankie’s tangled ties to her parents and sister, and past relationship (and now present re-acquaintanceship) with Noah to be consistently absorbing and thoughtfully done; these factors definitely upped the intensity and caliber of the story as a whole.
Overall, Time of Death is a solid, entertaining mystery that does a very good job of mixing character development and back story with an overarching medical mystery. Kerr does well in not only setting up Frankie as a character readers will want to follow, but also in laying the groundwork of Stillwater General hospital, the town, Frankie’s family, and relationship with Noah. There are a number of exciting places that Kerr can take Frankie and Stillwater General; I was hooked into Frankie’s voice and story from early on, and do hope to see and read more titles in this series.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.