It’s Christmas Eve, but Paige Woodward doesn’t anticipate a merry one. She’s just been fired from her pharmacy job at a big HMO and her Mom’s cancer tests have come back positive again. In fact, the seemingly idyllic holiday evening that begins Kathryn Cushman’s second novel, Waiting for Daybreak, is only the beginning of a long night for the Nashville pharmacist.
When Paige’s subsequent low-wage job at the free clinic peters out, a job offer from Lee Richardson – complete with decent wages, a signing bonus and a location close to where she lives – seems like an answer to her family’s prayers for Mom’s treatment money. But is it really a godsend? Her new boss, Lee’s granddaughter Clarissa, makes life difficult from day one. Paige bends over backward – too far? – to get along. However, when Clarissa continues to cut corners and bend Pharmacy Board rules, Paige confronts her – hang the fallout. She’s learned a thing or two about consequences and wrecked careers (talk about the consequences after that!). Will the waking nightmare that began Christmas Eve and continues through a spring of suspicion, setups, lies and pending lawsuits ever end?
The pharmacy setting, where one mistake can prove deadly, is perfect for the suspenseful plot involving the dueling pharmacists. Each has her own reason for wanting to succeed, and her own way of making sure it will happen. Wily Clarissa with her confidence, determination, sense of entitlement and family resources is a formidable foe. Throughout the book Paige faces a Job-like barrage of problems. All this, along with a little romance, keeps the reader off-balance and transfixed.
Cushman’s characters are layered, complex and interesting. Main characters Paige, Clarissa and Dawn, the pharmacy tech, all come to life with weaknesses and redeeming qualities. I have one quibble in this department, though. When the mostly sinister Clarissa makes a complete turnaround in one afternoon, I felt a little ‘used’, considering how much energy I had spent disliking her through most of the book.
Though the action does at times have the feel of an afternoon soap (maybe because of the female rivalry), its serious themes elevate it into something much more. Paige is outspoken about her Christian faith, which is constantly being tested. Cushman handles the faith angle without apology, albeit with a light touch through elderly Ora Vaerge, who regularly challenges Paige to squeeze relevant application from Bible verses that pop into her head. The importance of honesty and communication are themes that come through as well. And though not overt, the book does make subtle observations about the pharmaceutical industry and malpractice suits within the medical system.
All in all, Waiting for Daybreak is another sticky Cushman book – one that once you start, you won’t want to put down until you’re done.