A story about dealing with a daughter’s sudden death

CAST INTO DOUBT; Patricia MacDonald; Severn House; 2010 231 pages; $28.95

By A Contributor

Shelby Sloan thought the Caribbean cruise she was giving to her daughter, Chloe, and her son-in-law, Rob, was a great present. Shelby was even taking care of her grandson, Jeremy, in their hometown of Philadelphia while the couple was on the cruise. But the cruise ended in tragedy. Rob called from the ship in a panic; Chloe had fallen overboard.

Shelby flew immediately to St. Thomas to comfort Rob and find out what happened. The police had received the cruise line’s videotapes of the passengers in the common areas. Shelby was shocked to discover that Chloe, who she regarded as a superb mother and something of a health nut, was seen on the ship’s videotape ordering and drinking seven double vodka tonics on the night of the accident. Shelby later found out that her daughter was an alcoholic who tried both to hide it and deal with it. Rob confirmed that his wife was going to AA. Shelby doesn’t believe the police version of what happened — that Chloe was drunk and slipped off the balcony of their stateroom. Shelby doesn’t give up hope and pays to continue the search for answers after the cruise line and the police, who ruled the death accidental, called off the search.

Shelby is visited by Janice Pryor, whose daughter, Elise, also fell off of a cruise ship. The cruise line wanted Janice to believe her 17-year-old daughter had a drinking problem. But Janice insisted that her daughter had been murdered by one of the cruise ship employees. Janice started an organization called Overboard detailing the stories of survivors of people who died or disappeared during a cruise. After hearing Janice’s story, Shelby becomes convinced that something is terribly wrong.

Shelby enlists the help of Perry Wilcox, who is head of security where she works. Meanwhile, Shelby is trying to help Rob and Jeremy cope with the loss of Chloe, but also trying to not be overbearing. To further complicate Shelby’s life, her mother, Estelle, who is an alcoholic, is not doing well and is under constant care. Shelby’s sister, Talia, sees more of their mother than Shelby does, which creates a rift between the sisters because Talia thinks Shelby is not doing enough to support their mother. Rob’s ex-wife, Lianna, and her husband, Harris, a doctor, help care for Jeremy when needed and also play a surprising role in the book. Another minor character who adds to the plot is Molly, Rob and Lianna’s daughter. There’s a lot going on in “Cast Into Doubt.”

The book’s prologue seems to have little to do with the rest of the novel, but in the last few pages, the connection becomes clearer. The prologue centers on an argument between a convenience store employee and three customers that results in the death of two people.

The character development is fair, but given that the cruise was the scene of Chloe’s death, the author could have given readers a few more pages aboard the ship. Also puzzling was the photograph of a two-story house on the book jacket.

Patricia MacDonald, the author, has written several “domestic suspense” novels. Among them are “Not Guilty,” “Married to a Stranger” and “From Cradle to Grave.” A bestselling author in France, she lives in New Jersey.

Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.

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