Extreme Unction: A Lupa Schwartz Mystery
By: J. David Core
Length: 328 pages
Release date: Sep 12, 1980
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When an autopsy finds traces of the banned insecticide Chlordane in the anointing oil on the corpse of a local big-wig, Pittsburgh police bring Lupa Schwartz, an outspoken non-believer, into an investigation focused on a well-liked local clergyman. Worried that the police are planning to use him as a political fall-guy, Schwartz coerces Cattleya Hoskin, a magazine reporter with a connection to his family’s past, to chronicle his process and squelch any misgiving that his world-view influenced the outcome.
Suspicion in the case is focused on Fr. Coneely, an outspoken euthanasia advocate who had earlier made the mistake of telling the family of the now-dead man that, hypothetically, he could safely apply poison-laden oil to their suffering father during last rites, and nobody need be the wiser. Was Mr. Hanson the willing victim of a mercy killing, or was a lapsing insurance policy the real motive for one of Hanson’s five children to taint the oil?
All of the elements which are to become the unique hallmarks of the Lupa Schwartz series are birthed in this story: Schwartz’s compulsion to flatten the tires of parking rule scofflaws, Cattleya’s frustration with Schwartz’s refusal to carry a credit card or cell phone, their unspoken agreement to never discuss their shared history, and Schwartz’s fondness for comedy movies. We also meet the supporting cast who populate each of the stories: Mia, the feisty mechanic who lives in Schwartz’s large Victorian during the week to work on his car collection, but who visits her grandmother on weekends; Beverly, the cook and housekeeper who may or may not be in love with Schwartz; and Trevor Johns, the Pittsburgh police homicide detective by day, and Jazz/Blues clarinet player by night. We also meet most of the circulating cast of bit-players who appear in stories as needed: Jana, Cat’s friend at Gamut Magazine HQ; the Five Seekers, members of a discussion group Schwartz belongs to; and Victor Jenkins, a newspaper reporter.