By Marty Mulrooney
Rehab Run: A Danny Cleary Novel is the second instalment of a thriller trilogy by Barbra Leslie that began with Cracked in 2015, which AMO described as “a cracking good read, mixing the violence and dark laughs of a Tarantino film with the conspiracy-fuelled page turning of a Michael Marshall mystery thriller and the neo-noir of James Sallis.” In Rehab Run (published today in the UK by Titan Books), Danny Cleary returns to find herself embroiled in yet another series of murders, each more gruesome than the last. She’s only been in rehab for two weeks and all hell has already broken loose. Can she protect her brother and solve the crime before she starts taking drugs again?
It was just my luck that I was the one who happened to find the severed hand in the mailbox.
… and so begins Rehab Run, the eagerly anticipated return of kick-ass former crack addict Danny Cleary. Following the events of the previous novel (which are cleverly recapped at the beginning of this brand new adventure without ever feeling too clunky), Danny left the haunting, painful memories of North America for the rural idyll of Novia Scotia and checked into an expensive rehab clinic. She only smokes cigarettes now, and takes a light jog every morning. It’s a struggle at times, but she’s getting there.
Until she finds the severed human hand. It’s an opening that will immediately grab the reader’s attention (pun intended), posing a question with no clear forthcoming answer. The police are called, Danny gives a statement and there is a distinct possibility that the gruesome incident actually had nothing to do with her at all – she was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. What else is new? Besides, she has other things to think about. Like her recovery, and picking up a visitor from the airport.
“I’m just here to lend a little moral support to Dickie, and to see my wee little sister.”
“Wee,” I said. “Ha. I’m five-ten, Laurence. I’m practically a genetic mutant.”
“What does that make me then?” he said.
“A science experiment gone wrong,” I said. We smiled at each other.
Any initial disappointment that Danny’s rock star brother Darren is only briefly mentioned in Rehab Run (he’s off playing uncle) will evaporate as soon as readers are introduced to her older brother Laurence. It turns out that all the Clearys are extremely well written, wise-cracking and likeable. Laurence is gay without ever becoming a stereotype or letting it define him, thoroughly enjoys smoking and takes his promises very seriously indeed. His banter with Danny is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Rehab Run, managing to brighten even the darkest of moments.
Laurence has come to visit his old college roommate Dickie Doyle, who runs and owns the rehab centre. It’s named after his dead wife, who developed a drug addiction after being thrown from a horse and prescribed OxyContin for the pain – Rose’s Place. Dickie doesn’t stay in the centre itself, instead choosing to live a life of isolation in the woods. Laurence has kept in touch with him over the years and knows he’s been troubled since his wife’s death, but recently became particularly concerned when Dickie said he’d seen her in the woods.
The truck had its high beams on and was taking the corner at speed. Laurence pulled sharply off the road and laid on the Mustang’s horn. The truck didn’t slow down, but didn’t hit us either. I tried to see the driver when the truck was parallel with us. I caught a glimpse. The tinted driver’s-side window was rolled halfway down.
“Did you see him,” Laurence wanted to know.
“Red baseball cap,” I said. “Dark hair.”
Danny and Laurence are followed from the airport by a mysterious yellow pickup truck and it isn’t long before more body parts start showing up. The Annapolis Valley is beautifully described and certainly sounds like a relaxing, peaceful place to live. It also sounds like it could be absolutely terrifying with a murderer on the loose. Cell phone reception is patchy and unreliable, there are miles and miles of isolated roads and rough terrain and when darkness falls, it does so with extreme prejudice. In short, it’s a masterful choice of setting that Barbra Leslie obviously knows in real life like the back of her hand.
Just like Cracked before it, Rehab Run requires some suspension of disbelief – especially when it comes to the actions of the local police force. However, none of the novel’s more outlandish elements ever get in the way of simply telling a truly satisfying murder mystery story. This is an often shocking, hilarious and scary novel, with plenty of red herrings for both Danny and the reader to ponder before eventually revealing the shocking truth. It’s still unmistakably an action-packed Danny Cleary novel, but the horror slant is a welcome, reinvigorating one.
Footsteps were coming for my room, and I could tell they were too light to be my brother’s. It sounded like they were trying to be quiet. They paused outside the door, and I waited for a knock.
Instead, I saw the doorknob turn.
Some readers may be slightly disappointed that there aren’t a few more connections to Danny Cleary’s debut in Cracked, although some familiar faces do show up. However, it’s hard to imagine anyone who loved the first book won’t love Rehab Run too. It’s an impressively well-written novel that is, perhaps appropriately, more inhaled than read. Writing a genuine page-turner isn’t easy but Barbra Leslie has it down to a fine art. Whether high as a kite or clean and sober, Danny Cleary is a fascinating, reluctant hero who will never stop fighting to protect the ones she loves. I absolutely cannot wait to read about her doing it again in the final instalment of the trilogy.
9 OUT OF 10