Postal Reading group
January 2019
Notes on the book The Abortionist’s daughter by Elisabeth Hyde

The Abortionist’s daughter by Elisabeth Hyde is a cross between crime fiction and a family drama. The story begins with the murder of Diana Duprey, a doctor at the Center for Reproductive Choice, and follows the tensions in the bereaved family as they are forced together. Abortion remains a high profile issue in America, and as such this is a crime with no shortage of motive, while the family itself has not been spared bitter quarrels over the subject.

Initially this unfolds like typical crime fiction, complete with the detective suffering relationship difficulties of their own. However, this novel does not make convincing crime fiction. To begin with, there are too many problems with the procedural aspects, for example the police taking little care to secure the crime scene, allowing the family continued access (p. 31-33). Secondly, although there is no shortage of suspects, there seems to be precious little investigation; no more than afew half-hearted interviews. Finally, the detectives come across as being particularly stupid, with one suggesting that Dr. Duprey’s death could have been an accident occasioned by her swimming into the side of the pool! Towards the end Huck comments that “day after day the people in this town wake up with the sole ambition of obeying the law” (p. 282). This is just as well given the state of the town’s police.

The identity of the killer comes as no surprise when it is reavealed, although I had some difficulty in understanding his motive. Indeed, given the large number of potential suspects, I almost thought this was too obvious. By the standards of crime fiction I suggest that the plot is not sufficiently well developed, and the author doesn’t introduce the evidence in a coherent way.

As a family drama, this novel is a little more successful, although as this is only one theme out of at least three, I would again argue that the plot is a little simple. It would have been improved if the author had devoted more space to the stronger aspect of the book. As it stands, both the husband and the daughter had argued with Diana on the day of her death. While it is unfortunate that both arguments happened on the same day, neither was really remarkable. The characters are believable, although slightly exaggerated, and none are particularly likeable. Initially I had some sympathy for Megan as she was sought to develop her own independence in relationships, while having to deal with a concerned mother and an ex-boyfriend turned stalker. However, by the end she simply came across as a little naïve, or less charitably rather immature.

The third theme in the book is that of abortion rights, which remains a contentious issue in America. I don’t know if the author was intending this book to cover some of that debate, or even to add to it, but here again the author misses an opportunity. Although both sides do feature in the story, any arguments which are presented are fairly simple statements of opinion. The doctor believes that women should have a choice, the reverend believes that all life is sacred; this much is predictable. Similarly, although Diana’s agruments (accidents happen, and women deserve the choice) do get put across, the author seems to go easy on the anti-abortion, pro-life lobby, portraying their protests as largely peaceful, even though we know that in reality this is not always the case, while also ignoring the intimidation they can cause to distraught and vulnerable women.

Despite these criticisms, I found the book to be well enough written and a quick, easy read. In a way I enjoyed it and certainly didn’t dislike it. Unfortunately this, in isolation, is not really enough to make a good book. As a detective story it is rather poor, as a family drama it works better, but with too many not entirely believable events, it still falls short in this regard. Ultimately, like the author’s pro-life protestors, but unlike the reality in America, the book fails to provoke strong feelings either way.

Comments by Nicholas Cutler