Lost Letter

~by Neil Mulligan

Lost Letter was submitted to me for review directly by the author Neil Mulligan. Like many of the books that I'm asked to review, Lost Letter is probably not one that I would have picked up on my own simply because I hadn't come across it before it was brought to my attention. Lost Letter is Mulligan's first novel and has been received mostly favorably, gaining very positive reviews from Kirkus and RomanticTimes among others. So, I was happy to accept a copy of the book for review and looked forward to reading it despite the author being completely unknown to me except for a brief e-mail exchange.

Mary McDougal is on the verge of being offered partnership at the prestigious accounting firm of Murphy, O'Connor, and Dooley when she discovers her mother Maggie has been hiding a secret from her. Diagnosed with both Alzheimer's and terminal pancreatic cancer, Maggie is only expected to have a few more months to live at the most. Arrangements as to her care must be made and for better or for worse, Maggie ends up moving in with her daughter. Mary struggles to balance her work with her mother's illness, but fortunately the firm is supportive of her needs. In the last few weeks of Maggie's life, the two women get to know each other better than ever before as Maggie shares her stories. And unbeknownst to either of them, a lost and undelivered letter written by Maggie's husband before his death in World War II has been found and is slowly making its way to her.

Probably my favorite part of the book was following the letter's journey and story. The discovery of the undelivered mail, and the decisions and debates surrounding what exactly to do with them appealed to my inner archivist. Unfortunately, readers are never explicitly told that one of the lost letters is destined for Maggie until rather late in the book. If I hadn't already known the story's basic premise or hadn't read the back cover (and I know plenty of people who avoid doing just that), I think I would have been somewhat confused as to the letter's connection to Maggie and Mary's story. Granted, the title of the book is Lost Letter. As it was, I didn't really feel a sense of urgency to the letter's return--it was either going to happen, or it wasn't. Another part of the book that I particularly enjoyed was Maggie's reminiscences of growing up Irish in the Bronx and the memories of her husband Jimmy who she obviously cared deeply for. She doesn't seem to remember any faults, however, and he comes across as maybe a little too perfect--but these are her memories.

Overall, I wasn't quite as taken with Lost Letter as most others seem to have been, but I did find it to be a fast and easy read. One thing that did hinder my enjoyment of the book, and this is by no means any fault of the author's, was that the text regularly had formatting issues where entire lines would run together as one word. But, as mentioned, I don't blame Mulligan for this at all--although it is a rather unfortunate printing error. Mulligan's writing style is very straight-forward, stream-lined, and direct, allowing him to be to the point but still tell a heartfelt story. I would have liked to have seen some longer and more complex sentence structures, but that is my own personal preference. I did have trouble at times following the story's chronology, and there were some very minor incongruencies, but for the most part Lost Letter was quite readable. I would be interested in seeing where Mulligan turns his pen next as he hones his skills.


Jeanne said...

I thought this was badly written; full of grammatical mistakes and stilted dialogue. Didn't you think it read a bit like a guidebook for hospice care?

Phoenix said...

Hi Jeanne, thanks for stopping by.

I did notice quite a few mistakes (which is saying something, coming from me) and I frequently found the dialogue grating. It's not a book that I would readily recommend, and was quite surprised by how many people seem to be doing so.

Jeanne said...

It does make me wonder. Are all these people actually reading the books they churn out such enthusiasm for?

Anonymous said...

While not a complex read by any means, I thought the author displayed a heart-felt compassion towards a medical situation striking thousands of Americans annually.
I also liked the way he went back and forth in time and tied it all together. That's not something you see in first novels. I
I recently experienced, first hand dealing with a family member that was terminal and it brought back many memories. I thought Mulligan hit it right on describing the decisions family must make. At times it feels so surreal.

Phoenix said...

Hi Neil, I'm glad you could stop by.

I agree that you displayed heart-felt compassion in your novel, but I do think it is unfortunate that you feel you need to hide behind an anonymous comment.