Kay and Cyril Wilkinson make their pact in October 1991 at their home in Lambeth, South London. They’ve just returned from the funeral of her father, whose 14-year mental and physical deterioration has been so exhausting, says Kay, “he used up even the miserable amount of energy we’d need to celebrate the fact that he’s dead at last.” Readers of Shriver’s previous work will recognize the bluntly unsentimental attitude, and the smooth way she inserts essential details into the couple’s post-funeral conversation. Kay is 51, Cyril 52; he’s an idealistic socialist, she’s more pragmatic and conservative. They both work for the National Health Service — she’s a nurse, he’s a GP — so they see every day the consequences of lives extended beyond people’s ability to care for themselves. They don’t seem especially attached to their three children: self-dramatizing Hayley, self-serving Roy and dutiful Simon. Suicide is Cyril’s idea, which will prove significant later, but Kay agrees, and she’s no pushover — which will also prove significant.