Archive for Psychological – Page 2

A.J. Rich: The Hand That Feeds You

thehandthatfeedsyouIt’s no secret that I have a bias against slumming “serious” authors who try to write mystery books. They seem to believe that any idiot can produce crime fiction, so maybe it’s time they dashed one off themselves and finally achieve the money and success they deserve. Most of them, however, have not been prepared by their MFA programs to deal with such necessary matters as plot, pacing and suspense,and their well honed abilities to evoke suburban anomie, critique consumer culture and describe changing foliage are of scant use. Clearly, I’m disposed not to like such efforts and I usually don’t, even the ones that many people rave over, like John Banville’s Benjamin Black series.

So when I like I book I’m so predisposed not to, it must be a pretty good book. Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment are Guggenheim award winners, college professors and long time serious writers, and together, calling themselves A.J. Rich, they have written an extraordinary mystery/suspense novel called The Hand That Feeds You.

When I read an advance reading copy from a new writer, it has to grab me from the get go, and the set-up for this one is extremely compelling. Morgan Prager (any relation to Moe?) is a young woman who is completing her thesis on the psychology of victims and predators. She met her new fiancé Bennett as the result of her online trolling to attract predators to study, Bennett being so sane and seductive that he became the control group against which the deviance of the online weirdos could be measured. Her putative future happiness is shattered, however, when she returns to her apartment to find, in an memorably chilling scene, the bloody body of Bennett, who has been apparently mauled to death by her beloved rescue dogs; two pit bulls and a Great Pyrenees.

Quite naturally this horror throws her into an emotional tailspin. She’s pulled out of it after she tries to write a letter of condolence only to discover that the people he claimed as his parents do not exist, and, in fact, nothing that he told her of his past and present life had any validity. She doggedly (so to speak) begins to pursue this man mirage, and, as in many good mysteries, the true identity of the victim provides the solution to the crime. In the familiar mystery manner, the closer she gets to the truth the more dangerous things become, as Morgan discovers that she was not the only woman in Bennett’s life, one of whom was murdered before he died and another, more frighteningly, after.

The writing is vivid and powerful and the plotting extremely clever. Only at the great final reveal does the keenness of the book falter a bit, but the reader who has figured things out has to spend but a few pages wanting to slap some sense into the suddenly obtuse narrator. There’s quite a bit of serious, engaging rumination about the relationship between humans and dogs, men and women and the power trips, heedless cruelty and ultimate love that can result from their interactions. Although there is a measure of ultimate redemption, be forewarned that this is NOT a whimsical Chet and Bernie style dog story, and the compelling quality of the prose, the hard truths and the sex and violence coming at the reader from odd angles can make The Hand That Feed You at times a deeply disturbing book, not that there’s anything wrong with that as far as I’m concerned. Good job, A.J. Rich – you may not achieve the goal implied in your assumed name, but you made me like a book I didn’t want to. (Jamie)

David Bell: The Forgotten Girl & J. Sheridan Le Fanu: Wylder’s Hand

WyldersHandI generally read one book at home and a different one at work. Recently the home book was an old one, Wylder’s Hand, the 1864 “sensation novel” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and the store book was brand new, David Bell’s The Forgotten Girl. Strangely enough, I didn’t get very far in either of them before I realized that despite a span of 150 years, they had the same basic plot. I call it “the mysterious disappearance,” and even though it’s an ancient story, going back at least as far as Persephone, perhaps the original Gone Girl, it’s very much in the air these days, especially since we’re all about to ask where the heck the warm weather went to.

Le Fanu is best known today as the author of many classic ghost stories (if you haven’t checked out “Green Tea,” you really ought to), but he also was a popular novelist, including Uncle Silas, which showcases his peculiar ability to make the skin crawl. His creepy and eerie qualities are in abundant evidence in Wylder’s Hand, but they’re in the service of a plot which today would be classified as a mystery. The tale begins with the titular Mark Wylder about to marry the enigmatic beauty Dorcas Brandon, in a union that’s more the re-grafting of two powerful, entwined family trees than a love match. After a few unsettling comments about how he’d prefer pretty blond neighbor Rachel Lake, Wylder suddenly decamps to London, and from there to the Continent, sending letters that cryptically hint at vague difficulties and eventual return. The main beneficiary of his flight is Rachel’s brother, the shady Captain Stanley Lake, who himself marries the beautiful heiress (who has had a secret crush on him the whole time) and assumes the life of the manor born. Of his character Le Fanu says: Captain Lake was a gentleman and an officer, and of course an honourable man; but somehow I should not have liked to buy a horse from him.

You can catch something of Le Fanu’s tone here – ironic, clever and with a definite Dickensian flavor. Like much writing of the time, there are a lot of coincidences, a wobbly point of view and more than a few plot holes – but the point is not credibility but entertainment, and in this he richly succeeds, sneaking a good dose of class commentary in along the way.

forgottengirlNeither the plot nor the prose of The Forgotten Girl is as rococo, but it is just as compelling, briskly proceeding with its suspenseful storyline in the manner of modern stalwarts like Harlan Coben and Chevy Stevens. I picked it up after several other new books couldn’t hold me beyond the first few paragraphs, and once I did I couldn’t put it down. In it, Jason Danvers and his wife Nora, caught both in an economic malaise and a relationship one, have returned to his old home town of Ednaville  in order to simplify their lives and stabilize their marriage, which had grown wobbly in high pressure New York City.

One night Jason’s sister Hayden, the family black sheep and former addict, out of touch for many years, appears at his door, teenage daughter in tow, and asks Jason and Nora to watch over the girl. Hayden claims she has cleaned up her act, has amends to make and will return in 48 hours at the latest. She does not, and the investigation that follows stirs up the embers of the other great conflagration of Jason’s life, the disappearance of his high school best buddy, Logan Shaw, the rich kid, who, following their fight on graduation night, apparently hit the road, confirming his peripatetic existence, like Mark Wylder, with the occasional letter. Jason’s nosing around after Hayden also seems to stir up her former running mates, the bad boys of high school days, grown even badder and scarier over time, one of whom is her ex-husband and the father of her daughter.

Then there’s that looming figure of the American imagination, “The Girl from High School,” Regan Maines Kreider, whose relationship with Jason was very close to becoming romantic when he and Logan fought over her that last night. She still lives in Ednaville, has been married and divorced, and she and Jason resume a not quite adulterous relationship over coffee and memories, though as events unfold it seems as though she knows more about the double disappearances than she’s revealing.

In Le Fanu’s world characters may be mysterious, but at some point they drop their masks to reveal their true nature. In the modern understanding human nature is much more fluid – the Danvers find that their growing attachment to Hayden’s daughter makes them question their decision to forgo children, and even the baddest of the bad guys can commit a good act. There is a lawyer figure in both books, however, and I’m afraid in terms of their character there hasn’t been much improvement over the years.

The “mysterious disappearance” plot, on the other hand, has remained extremely admirable, both in its durability and the thrills it provides. I heartily enjoyed both Wylder’s Hand and The Forgotten Girl, the former a charming yet creepy iteration from the past and the latter a crackling, suspenseful example of the best of today. (Jamie)

Megan Abbott: The Fever

The FeverAdolescence is, if nothing else, a time of high drama. Part of it is, of course, those crazy hormones coursing through young bodies, but there’s also a definite lack of perspective – without a substantive field of experience, small things can loom very large while important ones appear insignificant. The resulting hullabaloo can be comic, but there is also the occasional tragic result such as teen suicide, school shooting or other lapses in judgment that can shadow an entire lifetime. And when things go bad, no one captures the angsty existence of today’s teens with more vivid power than the immensely talented Megan Abbott, as evidenced by her latest excellent effort The Fever.

I’ll admit that I used to think that, like her avatar James Ellroy, Abbott’s writing powers were strongest the farther back in history her books took place, but The Fever is just as good as any of her first few books, if not better. The story begins with a set-up I dimly remembered from the news – a teen girl comes down with an strange and seemingly inexplicable illness, which seems to spread, but only to other girls, and with equally bizarre symptoms. This “plague” spreads from the tight, yet friction-filled circle of central character Deenie and her school celebrity friends to their classmates and then to the rest of the community. The divisions and insecurities of the teens are exposed and the furor attracts the attention of the adults, who for once turn their self-absorbed eyes in their direction, attempting to exercise their seldom used parenting skills. If anything, these “grown-ups” act even worse than their progeny, amped by the contemporary internet inspired blend of passion in the service of half-truth.

The narrative is elevated from “Young Adult” status by the presence of Deenie’s father Tom, a teacher at the school, a fully realized character who represents a more reasonable voice, reasonable, that is, until the police start questioning his daughter. The police presence represents the first hint that the reader is holding a crime novel, and that there will be a plot and suspense in addition to the fine writing and characterization.

Abbott’s filmic style is immersive and atmospheric, drawing the reader into the heady teenage world, while also tracking the parallel hysteria of the adults. As usual, she brings great skill and something different to the crime fiction world, making The Fever not only one of the best reads of this summer but of this year as well. (Jamie)

Julia Keller: Bitter River

Julia Keller’s first novel was a knockout, and this second book in the series may even be better.  She brings an amazingly assured voice to her storytelling, reminiscent very much of Sharyn McCrumb’s classic ballad novels.  The thing is, McCrumb wrote those after she’d cut her teeth on her (admittedly great fun) Elizabeth McPherson books.  While Keller has been a journalist and has written a non-fiction book, she plunged into novel writing full speed ahead with the first in this series, A Killing in the Hills.

bitterriverAmerican mystery writing – to my biased mind – doesn’t get much better than the mix of grit, setting, rich characters and sheer story telling power Keller brings to her work.  Oh, and her prose is beautiful too.  I’d compare her to a couple of my other favorite writers, William Kent Krueger and Julia Spencer-Fleming, for the beautiful prose and passion all three seem to share.

Comparisons aside, Keller very much has her own original voice.  Her central character, Belfa Elkins, is the county prosecutor in tiny Acker’s Gap, West Virginia.  Acker’s Gap is her childhood home; she’s returned there from swanky Washington, D.C. to make a place for herself as an adult in her former hometown.

Because of some events and struggles in the first novel, Bell’s teenage daughter, Carla, has moved back to D.C. to live with her Dad.  Bell sorely misses her though as usual her job is eating up her time and attention.  The story opens with two things: one is the fact that Bell’s sister is missing and she can’t bring herself to leave Acker’s Gap for fear she’ll miss her if she decides to turn up.

The other is the death of the local teen age star, Lucinda Trimble.  Lucinda was apparently beautiful, athletic, intelligent and nice.  She seemed to have no enemies in the world, but she’s still turned up dead in her car, submerged in the Bitter River.  She’s found by a jogger and it’s the sad duty of Sheriff Nick Fogelsong to deliver the bad news to Lucinda’s mother, Maddie, a former flame.

Nick’s past connection to Maddie and his lack of professionalism when he notifies her alone comes between him and Bell, and explains some of the later events, most of which are foreshadowed by the relentless press of the story and the events in the small town.  Bell is distracted by the arrival of a former DC acquaintance who has come to town to regroup away from the big city in the comforting shade of the mountains.

The crises in Acker’s Gap go from bad to worse.  Lucinda’s death is proving a tough nut to crack, and then another tragedy rocks the town.  Bell and Nick’s estrangement prevents them working together effectively, and when Bell is briefly knocked out of commission, it throws a further wrench in the works.

Nothing gets in the way, however, of Keller’s efforts to tell a riveting and moving story.  In this novel she is examining all the fierce permutations of love, and how the ties of family and kinship can either help or hinder you in the world.  She also takes a hard look at the bleak and overriding poverty in Appalachia.  All in all this is a reading journey you won’t quickly forget.  After you dry your tears, it will probably also make you thoughtful long after you’ve turned the last page.

Sophie McKenzie: Close My Eyes

On a recent train trip to Chicago, with the expected Amtrak delays, I had plenty of time to read, and in fact finished this whole novel on the ride.  It was an absolute inhale – I couldn’t put it down, and half way through my trip started rationing the pages so I wouldn’t finish too quickly. To me a great book recommendation is: when you are reading this book, you are looking at the dwindling number of pages left and saying “oh, no.”

closemyeyesThis novel fits in nicely with some recent, creepy thrillers like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, Elizabeth Haynes’ Into the Darkest Corner, and the great S.J. Bolton’s Dead Scared.  So, you are forewarned.

McKenzie is a well known British YA writer, with several books to her credit, and one skill that carries over nicely to an adult mystery from a YA novel is the necessity for storytelling drive.  While this is a very fine novel, it’s not a meandering thinkpiece – it’s a terrific story, with lots of great twists and cliffhangers.  It’s almost Victorian.

The central premise, as is the case for many good novels, is a simple one.  Main character Gen (or Geniver) Loxley is devastated by the stillbirth of her baby, now eight years ago.  She and her husband, Art, a very successful financier, are trying and trying to get pregnant again with no success.  It’s made Gen forget about her formerly blossoming writing career and made her a somewhat difficult and distant partner to her husband, Art, who seems more than understanding.

When you’re stuck in life, you need a kick start.  This wouldn’t be an interesting novel without one, and Gen gets hers in the form of a strange woman turning up at her door one morning, telling her her baby isn’t dead.  She’s (for it was a little girl named Beth) alive.  Gen has a dual reaction: she thinks it can’t be true, and she thinks it can.  Art is happy to point out to her all the reasons it couldn’t be.  When Gen meets an old friend of Art’s at his birthday party, he encourages her to check it out for her own peace of mind.  No-one else in Gen’s life is giving her that kind of advice – in fact, all of them, from her best friend to her husband to her perfect sister in law, Morgan – are all more or less telling her she’s crazy.

With the desperation of the obsessed, she latches on to Art’s friend, Lorcan, and does begin to investigate, and she starts to discover clues that suggest maybe she isn’t crazy.  You’re with her on the ride.  Your dawning belief in Gen grows as the novel progresses, but to tell too much more of this twisty plot would be to give too much away.  Let’s just say once you start reading you won’t be able to stop.  This is a terrific first adult effort from a writer who hopefully will be telling eager readers many more stories in the years to come.

Elizabeth Haynes: Into the Darkest Corner

You know how back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a famous “Detection Club”, with members like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh?  That was the so-called “golden age” of detective fiction.  I think the U.K. now needs a new club for writers – “The Creepy British Women Mystery Writers Club.”  Either it’s something in the water over there or a national predilection, but it can’t be a coincidence that writers like S.J. Bolton, Sophie Hannah, Jane Casey, Denise Mina, Mo Hayder, Tana French, Val McDermid (and I’m sure there are others) are producing such genuinely disturbing books that they almost make you flinch to open them.  All of these women are the direct descendants of the great Ruth Rendell, who could teach just about any of them the meaning of the words “concise, yet creepy.”

Add to that list Elizabeth Haynes.  Her first novel, Into the Darkest Corner, gets under your skin and stays there.  Her heroine is one Catherine Bailey, and you’re inside her head as she lives her present life, where she obsessively makes sure her doors and windows are locked and closed correctly, to her previous life where she was a club hopping party girl, dating a man named Lee.

We know there’s something wrong with Lee as the book opens with him being questioned at his trial, but Haynes builds a careful portrait of a relationship that looks good on the outside and is so wrong on the inside.  She contrasts this with the healthier relationship Catherine has in the present with her upstairs neighbor, a psychologist named Stuart.  She can’t really open herself up to Stuart because of her past, and he’s incredibly patient with her.

Haynes is excellent at illustrating how a smart, capable woman like Cathy could get involved with and end up being trapped by a man like Lee.  It’s an exquisite – and exquisitely painful – portrait of domestic abuse.  One of the most difficult parts for Cathy is that her friends think Lee’s just great – handsome, sexy, and so obviously devoted.  Well, Haynes shows us all the ways that kind of devotion can be super creepy.

This book is a little bit too long, and even though I raced through it, I think the author could have compressed both parts of Cathy’s life to make the pace of the book a bit brisker, and it’s very much a first novel in that sense, even to the point of having one or two loose threads when the story is finished.

While I was reading it I was also almost horrified with myself for reading it – it’s a truly awful and terrible story, but it has a giant redeeming quality.  I’m pretty sure the author intended the feminist slant she gives her story, and it’s ultimately a story of strength and survival.  You can almost hear Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive” in the background.  And thank goodness. This is a harrowing, but definitely a compelling, read.  You might want to make sure you read it when the lights are on, though.

William Kent Krueger: Ordinary Grace

Krueger has long been one of my favorite writers – and he’s a favorite of many of our customers as well, who are often annoyed when another Cork O’Connor book doesn’t appear quickly enough. From the very beginning I’ve been captivated by this writer’s prose and the depth of character he’s is able to convey.  And of course, he’s a wonderful mystery writer, good with suspense, action, and plot twists. That’s a rare enough combination that Krueger is one of the best in the contemporary mystery field.

His new novel, which I was lucky enough to read in manuscript and raced through for a second time in the form of an advance reading copy, is one of his best books. Maybe the very best he’s written.  That is saying a lot, as other Krueger fans out there will realize.  This delicate, sturdy, suspenseful, sensitive and amazing story will stay with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

While it is a mystery it’s a bit different in form from the more straightforward Cork O’Connor books. Set in a small town in Minnesota in 1961, it’s told through the lens of a thirteen-year-old boy who doesn’t quite understand the world but is starting to. Frank is part of the family of the Methodist minister in town. His father is the strong, silent type; his mother is artistic, passionate and frustrated; his little brother, Jake, who shadows Frank everywhere, stutters and keeps quiet in public; and his sister, Ariel, is the beautiful family star.  Musically gifted, she’s slated to head off to Juilliard.

Taking place during one long, hot Minnesota summer, this doesn’t feel like a period piece, even though it’s set very much in 1961. It feels more like Frank’s remembered dream of childhood, one which had terrible losses during the summer he’s remembering.  Because of the way the story is told, it takes on even more of a kind of dream-like quality.  The book doesn’t have the self-consciousness that some historical novels tend to – this is a story that happened in 1961, no other way to tell it.

The story, which is simple, yet complex underneath in many ways, concerns Frank’s family and, as he foreshadows early on ­three deaths that held the town and Frank’s family captive during that summer.  Because Krueger has structured the book so that the central death occurs in almost the exact middle of the story, it’s very much a “before” and “after” book. Like the rest of the book, the structure seems simple, but the underlying psychological parts of it are very complex.

Krueger has a wonderfully clear-eyed way of explicating relationships and human beings and making them feel understandable and relatable. These are people you understand – even know, but at the same time they are very specific people who live in a very specific time and place.  That’s the mark of a master storyteller, in my opinion.

What makes this book memorable is that while it’s about a terrible loss, it’s also about the way people deal with terrible losses. There’s a passage toward the end of the book – you’ll know when you get to it ­- that left me sobbing as well as dog-earing the pages so I could go back and read them again.  It’s that kind of transcendent moment that, as a reader, you live to discover, and I imagine, as a writer, you live to be able to convey.

Buy a copy of this book for everyone and anyone that means anything to you.  I hate to use the word special, but this book is special. I’ve read it twice and am already looking forward to revisiting it a third time. If there are any better books written this year, or for several years to come, I’d be very surprised.

Jenny Milchman: Cover of Snow

Jenny Milchman’s atmospheric debut novel would probably make you feel a chill even in August. Set in a tiny Adirondack town, main character Nora Hamilton wakes up one morning to find her whole world blown apart. She’d been happily married to a police officer – one terrible morning she finds he’s hanged himself in the attic.

From there, it’s almost as you are with Nora on her confusing journey of grief and revelation as she tries to figure out why her apparently happy and loving husband would have done something like this. Of no help are her cold, stand-offish mother-in-law; any cop in town, most of whom tell her to stay home and get better; or her own parents, who are whisked off canvas almost immediately.

Of some help is her fierce sister, Teggie, who painfully (to Nora) is falling in love in front of her eyes. What’s helpful is Teggie’s fighting spirit, which Nora channels when she’s faced with something particularly difficult or scary. Also helpful is an apparently autistic mechanic who provides Nora with several clues, most of them very hard to figure out. He serves as the voice of the innocent, untouched by the world at large.

As a series of unexplained incidents, both past and present, begin to menacingly coalesce, as readers we’re still somewhat in the dark, which is an unusual structure for a thriller. We’re finding things out along with Nora. In many thrillers, the reader is inside the head of the bad guy on some level, or you’re given more of a bird’s eye view of the situation than the character sometimes has.

Milchman’s book is entirely from Nora’s perspective, so while you are sometimes frustrated at what she doesn’t know or can’t figure out, at the same time it’s truly a mystery. As a reader you won’t be peeling away any layers of the mystery before she does. The book’s strength lies in Milchman’s sensitive portrayal of many of the characters as well as the setting. As far as I’m concerned, I’m never going to visit the Adirondacks. They may be lovely, but they apparently harbor plenty of secrets.

Laura Lippman: And When She Was Good

Laura Lippman keeps growing as a writer.  For a reader, this is a true delight, and each novel is something of a surprise.  She’s hewing more, lately, to the standalone model than to the Tess Monaghan novels that started her career, and she has plenty to say.  This novel is both a good story and a nuanced look at ethical behavior and choices.

Her central character is Heloise Lewis, who, it quickly becomes apparent, is a high class madam in the Heidi Fleiss mode.  Making the novel a look at the politics of prostitution from the opening scene, Heloise overhears a conversation in line at the Starbucks about the recent suicide of a “suburban madam”.  As she challenges the easy assumptions of the couple behind her in line, she’s really challenging her own assumptions.  The articulation of her thoughts to a strange couple merely starts her own thought process.

Heloise, it becomes very clear, is a very smart and capable woman.  She’s also a very damaged one, and Lippman backtracks through her childhood to show the reader how she’s ended up where she has.  Her father was abusive, both verbally and physically, and her mother stood by and watched.  Heloise gets out and away at an early age, though she segues quickly from stripper to hooker.

It’s when she meets Val, her boyfriend and then pimp, that her life becomes at once more simple and more complicated.  As Heloise is a “favorite” of Val’s, she has a privileged position in his  hierarchy.  It suits her until she wants to start reading books, which she has to do on the sly.

A catastrophic occurrence leaves Heloise visiting Val once a month in the Supermax prison near Baltimore, hiding the fact that she has a child, though not the fact that she’s now a successful madam on her own terms.  While the position of power should have shifted, it hasn’t seemed to, and Heloise is still tithing to her former master.

Heloise, cut off from normal life at an early age, is now trying to live it – and she approaches normalcy like a science, trying to do all the right things for her son.  She’s smart, so she can figure out how to behave and dress correctly, though she still holds herself at arm’s length from the community of “moms”, while at the same time being an almost perfect mom herself.

As her son gets older he starts to wonder more about his Dad, about why there are no family members around, and though he’s not figured out what his mom does, Heloise is starting to think it’s only a matter of time.  Her urgency in figuring out what to do about this is increased by the death of the suburban madam mentioned in the opening chapter and the reemergence of another fellow prostitute from back in the day with Val.

Heloise’s creditors – she has a few – are becoming demanding, and while she’s smart she’s not quite smart enough to escape a few of the traps laid for her.   Lippman’s skill as a psychological suspense novelist dovetails nicely with her look at the life of women.  Her theme seems to be that women, in all kinds of capacities – from stay at home mom to prostitute to even the “average” lobbyist that Heloise pretends to be – are overlooked, diminished.  While you may not always like Heloise you’re still strangely on her side.  You want her to figure out a way out of her troubles, as well as a way for her to behave like a normal woman.

Lippman’s resolution will no doubt stay with you.  Her straightforward prose style cuts to the heart of any point she wants to make, and it’s more memorable because of it.  I can’t wait for what might come next from the interesting and agile mind of Laura Lippman.

S.J. Watson: Before I Go to Sleep

This was a book club selection, and it’s one of the few I can remember where I had advance e-mails from delighted club members saying how much they loved this book.  One woman even came in and bought another copy to give to a friend.  When I finally got to reading this book – a multiple award nominee this year in the U.S., and last year in the U.K. – I found out how intelligent my book club members really are.  I loved it too, and like them, I couldn’t put it down.  I was making a drive home and had to pull into a rest stop to finish reading it.  The last book that required such a drastic measure was Michael Connelly’s The Poet.

The premise of this novel is both simple and complex.  The main character, Christine, suffers from amnesia.  Each morning she wakes up, unaware of what she’d been able to remember the day before, unsure who the strange man sleeping beside her might be.  He’s her husband.  She looks in the mirror, and is astonished at the older woman looking back at her. It’s an older version of her “remembered” self, of course. Each day, her life must be re-explained to her, and each night she falls asleep and forgets everything all over again.

That could be a monotonously horrible story line if somehow Watson wasn’t such a terrific story teller.  Each day manages to be somehow different from the one before it – for the reader, in any case.  Sometimes Christine will remember something and then find that her husband, Ben, has told her whatever it was many times before.  What Watson cleverly adds is a journal that Christine is keeping at the suggestion of her doctor, Dr. Nash, who is working with her unbeknownst to her husband.  Each morning Dr. Nash calls her and reminds her where the journal is and that she’s been keeping one, and each morning she reads it and remembers all over again what she’s written the day before.

It transpires that Christine has lost her memory in some kind of horrific accident, one she has absolutely no memory of, and the length of her amnesia – almost 20 years – is staggering.  Memories make a life, and in a very real sense, she has none.  This book takes all kinds of twist to get to its end point, an ending so shocking and surprising (and yet so meticulously set up by the author) that you’ll be smacking yourself on the forehead for not figuring it out sooner.

The pure narrative pleasure of this novel cannot be overstated, but Watson also has a lovely writing style and a wonderful hand with characters.  You’ll grow very invested in Christine and what happens to her, as well as the small cast of characters surrounding her.  When you finish it you may wish for a brief moment that you had Christine’s problem, that you could forget the story and read this wonderful book all over again.