This mystery had been on my TBR shelf for quite some time, having been recommended on both “Books on the Nightstand” and “The Readers”podcasts. The tone of the book is launched in the prologue in the last sentence, “Elizabeth?” I ask. “Did you ever grow marrows?” Maud is the speaker here, a seventy-something year-old woman who is flirting with the complete isolation of dementia/Alzheimer’s, whose daughter, Helen, is helping her stay in her home by visiting daily, hiring help to check on her and cook for her, and by suggesting mnemonic devices to aid memory. Thus the sticky notes on the book’s cover. Maud has them everywhere – in her pockets, her purse, stuck to walls. They help somewhat, but frequently Maud will come upon one and not recall what it means or why she wrote it down in the first place. Maud has become obsessed with the whereabouts of her friend Elizabeth. In attempting to sort out the mystery of her disappearance, she asks her daughter where Elizabeth has gone; she makes several unsuccessful attempts to walk to Elizabeth’s house, but gets lost; she calls Elizabeth’s son. Since the point of view in this story is primarily Maud’s, the reader doesn’t know the backstory, or what any of the other characters truly know about Elizabeth, or what they’ve told Maud. It is truly heartbreaking to watch Maud lose touch with her life and everyone in it. In that regard, Emma Healey has done a fine job of shining a light on what the internal life of an elderly person so stricken might be like. I began to experience my own degree of frustration with Maud when she ignored the advice of her caregivers, or perseverated on some detail. Imagine the frustration of her carers.
I love the way Healey placed clues very early in the narrative that were so unobtrusive as I read them, but so glaringly obvious as the mystery is solved. Very well-crafted.
Katy, Maud’s granddaughter, was dispatched by her mother to distract Maud, while Helen takes care of some business Maud’s house. Katy has wisely chosen music of her grandmother’s youth to engage her. Unfortunately, though, Maud doesn’t like Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again.” She much prefers Ezio Pinza singing the Champagne Aria.” But Katy prevails. Here’s Maud’s preference.
Maud and her daughter Helen are having lunch at The Olive Grill. Reading the menu aloud is something Maud doesn’t seem to be able to stop doing, even though it yields eye-rolling and mimicking strangulation on Helen’s part. When she finds “Chorizo- stuffed Marrow” on the menu she asks Helen if marrows are fashionable again, not having seen one on a menu in many years. It turns out Maud had gotten to know Elizabeth in the first place because of some marrows. When they first met, Elizabeth described her garden wall, and Maud knew exactly where she it was because she remembered some marrows had been dug up there some sixty years ago. When Helen tells Maud she wouldn’t like chorizo, Maud gets distracted to the degree that when the waiter asks for her order, Helen has to order for them both. So, in deference to Helen, I have used Italian sausage instead of chorizo.
Cheese and Sausage Stuffed Zucchini
1 large zucchini (marrow)
12 oz spicy Italian sausage
½ C chopped onion
3 beaten eggs
Pinch garlic salt
1 C shredded Colby cheese
2 C cottage cheese
1½ C shredded Italian cheese blend
1 T Italian seasoning
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 C chopped tomatoes
Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a baking dish (size is dependent on the size of the zucchini.
Saute crumbled sausage in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain and set aside.
Partially cook zucchini in the microwave on high for 5 minutes. Remove from the microwave and let cool for about 10 minutes. In a medium bowl combine the eggs, Colby cheese, cottage cheese Italian blend cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.
Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise,remove the seeds and blot dry with paper towels. Place both halves in the baking dish and sprinkle with garlic salt. Layer the sausage, tomatoes and cheese mixture in each half.
Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes. Then broil for 5 minutes to brown the cheese.