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Confessions of a Deathmaiden

Confessions of a Deathmaiden

3.3 3
by Ruth Francisco

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Francisco scales the heights of suspense with this enthralling first novel about a hospice worker determined to uncover why the young boy under her care died ominously. "Beautifully written . . . as original as it is absorbing."—Michael Connelly.


Francisco scales the heights of suspense with this enthralling first novel about a hospice worker determined to uncover why the young boy under her care died ominously. "Beautifully written . . . as original as it is absorbing."—Michael Connelly.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Frances Oliver, the "deathmaiden" of Francisco's captivating if flawed first novel, helps ease the passage of the corporeal body to the other world, but only when the spirit is ready to make the journey. Her newest client, Tom s, a young Mexican boy living in Los Angeles, is brain-dead, but before she can apply her skills, the boy dies. Believing he was murdered for his organs, this 40-something woman transforms herself into a sleuth to unravel the mystery. Oliver's journey takes her from contemporary L.A. and the unsettling business of organ "recovery" (i.e., harvesting) to the shadowy world of smuggled antiquities and, eventually, deep into the rebel-controlled Mexican mountain village where Tom s was born. Francisco writes with an attractive combination of matter-of-fact authority ("I help people die") and real lyricism, particularly when articulating the fuzzy zone between life and death. But too many convenient coincidences, some awkward foreshadowing and a few overly familiar characters, such as the skeptical but sympathetic policeman and the doctor (named "Faust"!) with a God complex, underline the need next time for a plot more worthy of this highly original and compassionate heroine. (Sept. 24) Forecast: Fans of Michael Connelly, who provides a blurb, will appreciate a setting and style reminiscent of Connelly's Harry Bosch novels. Fans of Margaret Maron, who also endorses the novel, will appreciate the strong and unusual female protagonist. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Frances Oliver is a "deathmaiden," one of a society of women trained in the mystical art of leading the dying into the next world. (She also happens to be a six-foot-tall redhead who drives a Jaguar, which leads the reader to infer that deathmaidens are well paid.) Her latest case involves Tomas Gomez, a young man from Mexico; although he is clinically brain dead, Frances supernaturally senses that Tomas is not ready to die and could possibly even recover. She is stunned when she returns from an errand to find Tomas's body being rushed to the hospital for organ donation. Frances investigates this shocking turn of events, her quest taking her from the jungles of Mexico to the big business of biotech organ harvesting. She is kidnapped and tortured. She solves the mystery. But by then we don't care. While this first novel has a serviceable plot and a suitably creepy title, the rest of it is a mess, intermingling turgid prose with pseudo-science and cartoon characters. Robin Cook's Coma is still a better choice.-Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Lib., Hammond, IN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut thriller about a brave young deathmaiden's valiant battle on behalf of anti-xenotransplantation. Say again? Well, it has to do with cross-species transplantation-a medical procedure of which deathmaiden Frances Oliver is not an enthusiast. And what's a deathmaiden? Think of a midwife assisting at a birth, then move 180 degrees. As Frances says: "I help people die." A graduate of the Institute for Eternal Living, she's serving in her professional capacity at the bedside of comatose T-mas Gomez, ten, when a frenzied medical team suddenly snatches him away. Turns out T-mas is an organ donor who's come under the loving scrutiny of the Silvanus Corporation, an evil industrial giant with a vital interest in a potential billion-dollar business in recycled body parts. And young Frances, a Joan of Arc for the new millennium, has Silvanus shaking in its acquisitive boots. Frances detests the kind of entrepreneurial corruption that undermines the dignity of death. Threaten her, terrorize her, you only prepare her for martyrdom and provoke her telling one-liners. When, as prelude to some down-and-dirty torture with electrodes and stuff, the bad guys strip her down to her panties and then beyond, she reacts with the insouciance of 007: "I was particularly fond of that pair." A promising protagonist thwarted by a wooden cast and a draggy plot. Maybe next time.

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Confessions of a Deathmaiden

By Ruth Francisco

Warner Books

Copyright © 2003 Ruth Francisco
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-61439-4

Chapter One

There comes a time when a Santa Ana wind howls hot off the desert, gathering dust and toxic gases in her arms, when she slams into a cold north current over the Santa Ynez Mountains and spills her load against the horizon. At twilight, as the red sky darkens to vermilion, and as luminous white cicatrices streak across the heavens, you have, for a moment, the sense of being in a living, breathing organ.

This is what I see as I drive down Washington Boulevard and turn into the area of Venice called the Silver Triangle. Only a few blocks from the beach, the neighborhood has been left undeveloped to persist in its outdated and unremarkable appearance: white stucco boxes with neat rose gardens, hurricane fences squaring off dry patches of crabgrass, front yards featuring asphalt driveways as if they were a thing of beauty. The house next door to where I work has artificial flowers stuck in the ground along the front walk and in the window boxes. The old woman who lives there waters her plastic posies every day.

It is a neighborhood of retired civil servants and middle-class Mexican families. Yet this too is changing. Unlike most neighborhoods in Los Angeles, people seldom move from the Silver Triangle. When they do, some studio executive razes the stucco house and constructs a three-story mansion built out to the property line. Invariably these houses have no windows on the first 7 floor, feature many skylights, and are landscaped with bamboo and cactus. Sterile, elegant, hostile. The inhabitants work long hours, their Mercedes disappearing into their garages late at night. I assume they enjoy thinking about their new homes, because they're so seldom there.

I park my racing green 1982 Jaguar at the curb by the stucco house where I'm employed. My heart is throbbing with excitement. I open the trunk and pull out two bags of toys. Some of the toys, like the kazoo and airplanes, I bought because I loved them when I was a child, others because they have bright colors or make noise: kites, balloons, a stuffed giraffe, a ukulele. I can't wait to see his eyes open and light up. I know they will. They have to.

As I walk up the paving stones to the house, I notice dead blossoms on the rosebushes, their branches bent and broken; dried purple petals litter the grass. I feel a sudden constriction, my ribs closing in around my heart. No. It can't be. I push the feeling away and quicken my pace.

Nervous, I swing open the screen door and place my packages on the oak writing desk by the door. It is warm and silent. Why would Mrs. Gomez go out and leave her son alone? I told her I would be back by four. I look at the clock on the wall: 3:58 P.M.I check her bedroom and the kitchen. I shout her name. She's not here.

The house is small with low ceilings. Suddenly there's a heaviness in the air, and I feel as if I'm shrinking, as if the walls are squeezing in on me.

Tomas has the room in front facing the street. As I hurry down the thick mauve carpet to his bedroom, my head begins to throb. I brace myself in the doorway.

The blinds are drawn. Tomas lies on his back, his left cheek pressed against the pillow, lips parted. His skinny right arm angles over his head, palm out, as if he were pushing something away. His left hand hangs off the side of the bed, his fingers relaxed for the first time since I've known him. Balancing precariously on the curve of his first two fingers is a small green rock.

It's impossible to pinpoint the moment of death. It transpires through a blurring of boundaries: the heart's final beat, the last movement of blood, the brain's last impulse. Yet there is one moment, an extraordinary, barely perceptible moment, when, if you are trained, as I am, you see life expire.

I experience that moment now. As I walk into his bedroom and see the small green rock dangling on his fingers, then fall to the floor, Tomas dies.

I become aware of sirens turning up the block. Tires squeal in front of the house, doors slam, a gurney clatters onto the sidewalk, footsteps run up the walkway. I look out the window and see a white van with the words Priority One Ambulance Service painted in bright red letters. A second car, a white Mercedes, screeches to a stop. A tall man in a white lab coat leaps out and dashes past the paramedics. He slams open the front door and races in.

I hear his footsteps running through the living room into the hallway. "Nurse, step away!" he commands. He grabs my elbow and shoves me across the room into an oak bureau as the paramedics crash into the bedroom.

The edge of the bureau digs into my ribs. I spin around angrily and glare at the man in the white lab coat. "I am not a nurse." He doesn't seem to hear me. "Get that heart going!" he yells to the paramedics. A defibrillator on Tomas's chest makes his small body jump a foot into the air. "Get him on a respirator! Check his nitrogen level! Let's keep the blood moving. Get the electrolyte solution going. Now!"

The doctor turns his attention to me. "Why wasn't I called immediately?" he demands. "I left explicit instructions to be called the instant the boy died."

I don't tell him there's been no time, that the boy just passed. "You left instructions? With whom? His mother?" Who is this bossy brute barking commands, violating this sacred moment? His arrogance burns my stomach.

He blinks at me as if I am a Polaroid photo developing before his eyes. Unflinching, I watch him watch me. He is tall, with thick gray hair and a long hooked nose. His white lab coat is wrinkled from sitting. A stethoscope hangs around his neck. He reminds me of an egret in the Ballona wetlands. "You may have ruined his heart," he says, his tone imperious and bitter, as if I had thoughtlessly run over his dog.

"Ruined his heart? What on earth do you mean?" "The child is an organ donor. We must get him to the hospital as soon as possible."

Again the paramedics use the defibrillator. When Tomas's body jumps, the lights in the house dim as if reflecting his spirit caught between realities. The men cheer when his heart starts again. I attempt to conceal how shocked I am. As I watch the three paramedics lift Tomas onto the gurney, their young, oversize muscles seizing upon his small body like scavengers, their white uniforms stretched tight over their hairy hyena bodies, I am filled with horror.

"Who must get him to the hospital?" I demand. "Why wasn't I told about this?" I block the doorway with my body. "The child is my responsibility."

The doctor suddenly stands straight, his lips stretched against his teeth in what he must imagine is a smile. He pulls me aside to let the paramedics by, but I stand firm. For a moment, I think we're going to wrestle, but he hesitates. All hospitals are terrified of lawsuits; it would not do to have a doctor sued for assault.

He tries a different tack. "I am Dr. Clyde Faust," he says. "I assume you are ...?"

"The hospice sent me," I say. "Of course. I'm sorry to have sprung this on you. You should've been told, but sometimes it causes complications, you know."

"I'm sure I don't know," I snap. I feel my face getting as red as my hair. "I cannot let you take the body without Mrs. Gomez's permission."

"Mrs. Gomez already knows of the situation. If you're so concerned, Miss ..."

"Oliver, Frances Oliver." One of the paramedics bangs the gurney against my shin. I jump back in pain, ready to fight; then I relinquish. I have already lost. I cannot overcome four men. They push the gurney past me.

"Miss Oliver, if you're so concerned, why don't you ride to the hospital with us?"

The thought of being boxed inside a shrieking ambulance as the paramedics prod and poke at what is left of Tomas fills me with disgust. "Where are you taking him?"

"Abbot Kinney Medical Center in Culver City." "I'll meet you there."

Dr. Faust turns and marches out of the house. I do something that I'll regret for the rest of my life: I let him. I am not a woman who is easily intimidated. I stand close to six feet tall. In the course of my work, I have brushed aside gang members in South Central and backed up murderers in federal prisons. But something about Dr. Faust makes my flesh creep. I watch as the paramedics roll Tomas away, his face obscured by an oxygen mask. A cold wind blows through my heart.

They are gone, the house is empty.

I am alone and still shaking. The toe of my shoe kicks something. I lean down to pick it up. It's the green rock that fell from Tomas's fingertips. I stare at it in the palm of my hand. It's a piece of carved jade.

As I look out the window into the rose garden, my skin tingles. I feel a profound sense of failure.

I let Tomas down.


Excerpted from Confessions of a Deathmaiden by Ruth Francisco Copyright © 2003 by Ruth Francisco . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Confessions of a Deathmaiden 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The premise was so enticing. But the story itself either got bogged down by the inner thought-life of the protagonist or raced out of control as this deathmaiden went from one unbelieveable escapade to another. Midway through the book I simply gave up. I was asked to believe more than I was able to do and I closed the book with relief.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After receiving her diploma from the Institute for Eternal living, Frances Oliver joins the Society of Deathmaidens. She wants to help people die gracefully and with dignity when they are ready to cross over. In Los Angeles, Frances the Deathmaiden has come to help young Mexican Tomas Gomez die. Though the lad lies in a comatose state and is pronounced brain dead, Frances feels he is not ready to move on and even might recover. However, the Silvanus Corporation arrives to harvest the body parts.

Frances wonders if Tomas was murdered so that his organs could be reaped by Silvanus. Unable to ignore what happened to the youngster, the ethical Frances begins to investigate what happened to the child who suffered a head trauma. She traces his trail back to his Mexican hometown. There in the remote mountain village she may find the handsome kind stranger may be the one to speed up her steps into the afterlife.

The concept of a deathmaiden serving as sort of a midwife except at the end of life is an intriguing notion that is cleverly handled within an exciting story line. Frances is a great character struggling with a need to right a wrong. Though coincidence is overdone, fans of medical thrillers will welcome CONFESSIONS OF A DEATHMAIDEN and look forward to more tales starring this delightful six foot caring dynamo.

Harriet Klausner