The Last Blue Plate Special

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the popular mysteries that began with Child of Silence (1992), Abigail Padgett recounted the adventures of a San Diego Juvenile Court investigator, Bo Bradley, who sought out child abusers while at the same time fighting her own battle against manic depression. In Blue (1998), Padgett introduced a new heroine, Dr. Blue McCarron, a social psychologist who preferred statistics to human beings. In The Last Blue Plate Special, her passion for justice again draws Blue away from her desert retreat and into what she mistakenly believes is a more dangerous world.

When two prominent female political leaders both die of strokes within just a few days of each other, Blue dutifully informs the San Diego police of what her statistics prove: the deaths cannot be merely coincidental. The police hire Blue and her partner, Dr. Roxanne Bouchie, a handsome, African American forensic psychiatrist, to help them find the killer. The clues are confusing. They include threatening notes signed “The Sword of Heaven,” gifts of gourmet food, Blue Willow plates, a haunting photograph, and, it turns out, the fact that all the victims had plastic surgery at the same upscale clinic.

Even though the killer obviously hates strong, unconventional women, Blue assumes that she herself is safe, at least when she is at home in the high desert, guarded by her doberman Bronte. However, when a Blue Willow plate appears on her doorstep, she knows that she, too, is marked for death.

In the final pages of The Last Blue Plate Special, Blue confronts the killer and survives. Padgett’s readers could not ask for a more suspenseful ending. The book is beautifully plotted. However, it is the author’s deft characterizations and her psychological insights, especially into the tentative but deepening relationship of the lesbian lovers, which makes this book most impressive.