by Stella Kinsella
Publisher: Lulu Publishing
Copyright Year: 2017
Reviewer: Cheryl Fairclough
Poison Ivy begins with a blizzard of cutting humour in a scene set at a baby shower (yummy mummies beware) as Stella Kinsella introduces us to her main character and narrator, Ivy Mason. Ivy is fortyish, single and childless, with no responsibilities and a talent for emotional and social ineptitude.
Wry and humorous observations are scattered throughout the book, though more sporadically than in the first chapter, as Kinsella goes on to paint a sad picture of the bland lives of the residents in Meadowville Retirement Village. This aged care facility is the setting for the interaction between the main characters and for most of the plot of this light murder mystery.
Ivy is a regular visitor to Meadowville in the role of dog minder and illicit medicinal marijuana supplier for her 78-year-old neighbour, Audrey, whose illness has forced her to move into care. Unemployed and seemingly lacking in any hobbies or social activities, Ivy is sucked into the life of Meadowville by falling into the role of a volunteer leading the activity program. Perhaps Kinsella has worked in extremely poor aged care, as her setting is an incredibly slap dash facility where medical records do not accompany residents, people can volunteer or get employed at the drop of a hat without any paperwork submitted, medicines are left unattended, and staff vanish with no management enquiry. While the novel is set in 2004 – and scandals in aged care still hit the news to this day – Ivy (once a journalist!) seems to accept all this without much outrage.
The murder happens early in the book, but it is offstage and we have barely met the victim. Other incidents occur that lead the police down what seems (to Ivy and the reader) a dubious path in a lack lustre enquiry. Ivy in turn bumbles on her way, alienating a range of the novel’s supporting characters, and misfiring at nearly every step of half-hearted investigation and sexual opportunities.
It is an activity Ivy sets up for Anzac Day which finally leads us all to the true seeds of the mystery. The denouement is logical and returns to a fast-pace as the plot unravels. The aftermath ties off the book well while leaving Ivy set up for any future mystery outings.
Overall Poison Ivy is a light read for those who like women’s fiction and cosy mysteries. Yummy mummies may also enjoy a gloat at the parlous state of Ivy’s single-dom. Those of us who are intelligent middle-aged singles with good social lives and a taste for suspense may just want to slap her.