An uneven but satisfying reading experience.
Elderly (but not geriatric) widower Felix is on an assignment with his new partner, Amanda, as an Exiteer. Exiteers are a secret cell of people who anonymously volunteer who provide the means for people with fatal diseases to die. Unfortunately, as they sit in vigil with their latest client, the man fumbles the mask so badly that Amanda violates protocol and assists it onto his face. Awkward, but a potential learning mistake, until they discover the real client is still alive, and they’ve assisted his ailing, deadbeat son into the hereafter.
While Exit contains a number of clever ideas, one of my most significant challenges with the book is one of tone around the premise of the Exiteers. You see, I worked for a number of years as a hospice nurse, and for my entire nursing career as a cancer nurse, so I’ve seen many manifestations of both life and death at the end of the human lifespan. In fact, I believe that people should have a real, controlled way out at the end of their life, if they so choose. So this premise was a struggle, because Felix and his group have truly done a huge disservice to what should be a vital personal right.
That said, once I was able to take my feelings around that issue and put them into a little compartment in the scattered library of my mind, I was able to enjoy the story, particularly as the plot picked up. I hesitate to say any more without spoilers, so let me say that all this is just the beginning of the book. Though it begins with a definite feel of sadness, eventually there there’s somewhat of a comedy-of-errors feel of it as Felix tries to work through what he’s done, both emotionally and socially. This is compounded by his own feelings of loss and grief over the deaths of his wife and son:
“Nobody ever spoke of the relentless parking that was demanded by a relative in hospital with a prolonged illness. Twice a day, every day, in the dystopian concrete multi-storey that smelled of urine and smog. The constant change for the ticket machine. The long queue at the barrier. The forgetting where the car was. Was it this row? This level?”
However, much like many Shakespeare comedies, ‘all’s well that ends well.’
Narration jumps around, at first sticking with Felix, and then alternating with Constable Calvin Bridge, who is assisting DCI King with the investigation. Eventually more viewpoints are brought in. In fact, I think by the end, the reader will get a taste of everyone’s viewpoint, including the villain’s. Normally, it’s the kind of device that irritates me, but something about this story worked more like a play, with a large cast of characters, than as a single-person, character or plot-driven mystery. What was nice about that is that it helps sell it as a feel-good tale, knowing as we do the mental and emotional place the characters are coming from.
The pacing is perhaps the most challenging thing about it. The main plot doesn’t take off until 11%, and the wrinkles that really give it spark aren’t until 35%. Eventually, there are plenty of twists to keep the reader engaged, to the point where it becomes a little bananas, really. There are frequent humorous asides, such as when he tries to help take care of a cat, his accidentally developing relationship with the elderly neighbor lady, and when he tries his luck standing on a boat.
Ultimately, a fun tale to read that fans of British humor should particularly enjoy. Just remember to keep that personal-ethical-political box locked up tight and have some patience for the ride.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC