By Marty Mulrooney
Unhinged: A Danny Cleary Novel is the final instalment of a thriller trilogy that began with Cracked in 2015 – “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” – and continued with Rehab Run – “an often shocking, hilarious and scary novel” – in 2016. Unhinged is Danny Cleary’s grand finale; but will she make it to the very end?
I settled in, sitting cross-legged on the bed and eating twenty-four dollar macaroni and cheese and guzzling Prosecco. When I heard the police in the hallway, I sighed. This was going to take hours, and I doubted they’d let me bring the Prosecco to the police station.
Just my luck. I couldn’t even enjoy my own suicide without someone trying to kill me.
Fresh out of rehab and clean for the most part, compulsive yet compelling antihero Danny Cleary begins Unhinged with a strong urge to kill herself. Thankfully, the plot moves so fast that she doesn’t really have time to do anything about it. Instead, she finds herself holed up with her loved ones inside a converted factory in downtown Toronto that she has learned to call home, decked out in the most advanced security available – a necessity when a madman is hell-bent on killing you and your entire family.
That’s right – cult leader Michael Vernon Smith is back. He’s been spotted in Toronto and Danny is sure that it’s only a matter of time before he makes his next move. Making matters even worse, Fred, the father of her nephews – and her murdered sister’s former husband – has become involved with a local stripper and managed to get himself beaten to a pulp. Going stir crazy inside ‘The Fortress’, Danny takes the natural next step for an ex-addict that needs her adrenaline fix; she heads straight to the strip club.
I couldn’t have moved out of his way even if I’d had time. There was no room. So in a pure – and very stupid – Hail Mary move, I chucked the contents of my vodka lemonade in his face, then brought the empty glass down on the kid’s head. Which did manage to stop him just before he would have tackled me. I understood my mistake when I realised that there was much more blood coming from my hand than from his skull.
What follows is yet another breakneck thriller from Barbra Leslie, a compulsive page-turner that surprises at every turn. Danny has never been one for a quiet life; it may cause misery for her and those around her, but it’s an absolute joy to read about. Taking a step back for a minute, there are some small dings in the paintwork – coincidences and plot developments that require stretches of the imagination and don’t always quite stick the landing.
It doesn’t really matter though; Danny Cleary is like an old friend by now. The plot of Unhinged isn’t the strongest of the trilogy – the Nova Scotia-based Rehab Run gets this reviewer’s vote on that front, with it’s masterful melding of time, place and murder mystery – but it does manage to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner. Considering the considerable pain Danny Cleary has felt since her sister was taken from her, it’s especially saddening to read in the acknowledgements at the back of this book that the author’s own sister passed away after only reading 20 pages of Unhinged, which has been touchingly dedicated to her.
I was probably only out for seconds, maybe a minute. When I regained consciousness, I fought the bile that was rising in my throat. I kept my eyes shut tight and worked on fighting the vertigo that usually came before or after one of my fainting spells. I head voices, and a chuckle that made my scalp tighten.
“Hello, Michael,” I said, and opened my eyes.
Unhinged has enough mystery, humour, horror and thrills to keep the pages turning until the bittersweet end. After three books of being beaten up both physically and emotionally – before fighting back like a total badass in the name of family, truth and justice – if anyone deserves a happy ending, it’s Danny Cleary.
8 OUT OF 10