Tuesday, March 2, 2021


WORST CASE SCENARIO by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.

Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists.

Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.

A heart-pounding, relentless and chilling psychological thriller, rich with deliciously dark and unapologetic humour, Worst Case Scenario is also a perceptive, tragic and hugely relevant book by one of the most exciting names in crime fiction.

“Every time Mary tried to relax in the bath, a paedophile ruined it.”

The opening line of Helen Fitzgerald’s latest-bar-one thriller sets the tone, as the Glasgow-based Australian once again offers something very fresh and original to crime fans. There's a wonderful spark to Fitzgerald's writing as she veers across an array of excellent standalone thrillers rather than having a central series or recurring character. Darkness laced with humour; a gleeful puppet-master. 

WORST CASE SCENARIO centres on an unforgettable main character. Mary Shields is a menopausal probation officer in Glasgow with a messy life, fondness for drink, and hatred of office bureaucracy. With nearly three decades on the job, Mary's life is a blur of dealing with the 'dregs' of society on a daily basis, armed with various government-provided powers and a healthy dose of sarcasm. 

She's ready to pull pin on her career, when she gets a particularly tricky case dumped in her lap: wife killer Liam Macdowall, who while in prison became a poster boy for men’s rights activists after publishing his private correspondence as a book, Cuck: Letters to My Dead Wife. For Mary it makes a wee change from paedophile parolees, though perhaps just a different flavour of dogshit. 

Newly released Liam becomes a dangerous obsession for Mary, which only worsens when her son gets into a relationship with Liam’s daughter. Determined to mete out her own justice, Mary comes up with some hare-brained schemes and kicks over a Jenga tower of consequences that fit the book’s title.

Carnage ensues, and Fitzgerald keeps twisting the dial higher in this energetic and darkly hilarious tale. WORST CASE SCENARIO is a wee slice of brilliance - though it may not be for everyone, in fact that's almost guaranteed - with Fitzgerald being unafraid to delve into tricky issues and sensitive topics, and the kinds of things you don't regularly see on the page. There's an eccentricity in a way - it's 'all a bit mad', but in the best possible way. Both Mary and the overall tale. The revs are kept high as the pages pass, and readers may feel, like Mary, that they're barely clinging on throughout. 

A terrific, near diabolical tale. Strap in, hang on, and enjoy the ride. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed Kiwi lawyer who now lives in London and writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. Craig's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020.

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