New Book – Ward Zero: the Dead Ward by Linda Huber


This is a mystery novel.

The prologue starts on July 20, and the narrator is thinking about Sarah, sitting across from him, and he is thinking how he has to kill her now after he slipped and said something that will make her suspicious. So he has to protect himself by killing her as he has killed others before her.

Then the novel moves backwards, fifteen days before. Sarah returns to England after spending some months in Switzerland teaching. She is worried when her foster mum Mim doesn’t come to collect her at the airport. Rita, Mim’s daughter, tells Sarah that her mother is in hospital after she had an cycle accident and then she had to have a knee operation. From Sarah we learn that her parents died in a car crash when she was little, so she grew up with her grandmother, and when she died, Mim took her in and raised her. Mim and her late husband took care of foster children who stayed with them for shorter or longer periods, and Sarah is one who stayed the longest.

Sarah goes to visit Mim at the hospital. There she meets an old school friend Jack Morrison, who is working at the hospital during the summer as a porter, and she feels an instant attraction. The man asks her out and she agrees to go out with him at some point. Mim is okay, just looking forward to being released and going home. Then when she is in the cafeteria, Sarah recognizes a woman sitting at the table next to hers. It is Petra Walker, a woman whose girl stayed with Mim when her mother and father were going through a divorce and Petra turned to the bottle. Sarah talks to her, and Petra tells her that her grandmother is at hospital after suffering a stroke. Petra is also worried about her grandmother because the old woman took out all the cash that was in her account, and Petra has no idea how she is going to pay the rent and other bills. Her grandmother can’t talk to her, so she plans to talk to the hospital administrator soon to find out if he knows what has happened to her gran’s money.

From the chapters in which we get inside the mind of the man in the prologue, we know that he got the money from Petra’s gran on the sly, and this is not the first time he has done so to old ladies. Now he is worried because if Petra stars snooping around, the matter will be looked into and he will be in great trouble. So he plans to stop Petra from seeing the administrator. I think that the anonymous man in these chapters is Jack, but as the story progresses, some other men are thrown into the plot and it is not so clear Jack is the criminal. Yet, I still think it is Jack.

The day of her meeting Petra leaves her twelve-year-old daughter Frankie with her grandmother at the coffee room while she goes to see the administrator whose office is in another building. It is raining, and as she is worried to get wet, our criminal appears and offers her a lift, which she accepts gratefully. Yet, as soon as she is inside the car, he paralyses her with a taser, and when she is unconscious, he drives her to his garage where he ties her up and gags her. Meanwhile, at the hospital Sarah has arrived to pick up Mim since she is being released today. She sees Frankie with her grandmother, and the girl tells her that her mother has been gone too long. Sarah tries to help her, and one nurse calls the administrator but naturally Petra hasn’t been to see him. Mim wants to take Frankie home, and after calling social services, a miserable Frankie leaves with Sarah and Mim. The nurse Nick assures Sarah that he will try to find out where Petra has gone, but hours later when he calls Sarah and tells her that nothing has been found, Sarah decides to call the police.

The police are not very helpful at first. They think Petra has just simply left, which is something she had done twice before that year when she left Frankie home alone to go dancing. Our criminal is getting nervous. We know that the aim of his criminal activities is to get money to do up the house where he lives now that his parents moved to a nursing home. He resents his parents as they were too protective and possessive. Now that Petra is in his garage, he realizes he has made a mistake because he has no idea what he will do with her. So he decides to kill her, so he crushes her head with a shovel and then he dumps her body in the canal.

I have the impression that the criminal is Jack because he is quite strange around Sarah. They go out twice, and he is tense and nervous, but Sarah chalks it up to his nerves about the date. Jack hardly talks, and he seems interested in learning more about Frankie and what is happening, and naturally Sarah tells him everything.

Petra’s body is found, and the police soon realize that she has been murdered. The social services agree that Frankie should stay with Sarah and Mim as long as she wants. Sarah also finds out that the bank manager arranged for the withdrawal of Petra’s grandmother’s money, and he took the money to the hospital. The woman refused to put the cash in the hospital safe as she claimed that he wanted to give her granddaughter a surprise, so she kept it in her locker from where it later disappeared. We don’t know if the murderer stole it or the old woman, Wilma, gave it to her. In any case, Sarah notices the bank guy, Ralph, nervous and jittery.

Sarah and her neighbour Caitlin are trying to put the pieces together and find out about Petra’s murder. Both Sarah and Caitlin have been asking around, but they haven’t had much luck. Sarah only knows that Wilma was visited by some old ladies, who she doubts could have killed Petra. What Sarah and Caitlin suspect is that Petra’s murder is linked to the disappearance of Wilma’s money. Sarah is suspicious of the bank worker, Ralph, who acts nervous and weird when he talks about the matter. She is also suspicious of Nick, the nurse, who is too solicitous and seems eager to keep contact with Sarah. I’m afraid Sarah is wrong, and the killer is much closer home. I don’t think either Ralph or Nick are the murderers, but Jack.

Apart from this, there is a new case in which Jack must have been involved. It involves a woman called Glynis. The woman got a call from her son-in-law, asking her to lend him £3,000 for a surprise trip for his wife and Glynis’s daughter. He didn’t want his wife to grow suspicious if he withdrew the money from their joint account. He sent a clerk to collect the money, and Glynis expected him to pay her back in a few days. When the money is not paid, she calls her son-in-law, and she learns that he never made that call or asked her for money. So Glynis has been the victim of a scam, and I’m sure that our murderer, Jack, as I believe it is him, will be behind this too. I think he mentioned Glynis in the prologue, so I wonder if the woman might be a victim of more than a scam.

Interesting book!!! I feel so sorry for Frankie. She is a lovely character, and I just hope that the culprit gets caught before he can do anything to Sarah!!!



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