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Friday, 1 January 2016

‘Into the Dark’ by Alison Gaylin

Published by Sphere,
3 December 2015. 
ISBN: 978 0 7515 5374 1 (PB)

Imagine if you had the kind of memory which gave you instant, detailed recall of any incident in your adult life, in acute sensory detail. Pretty useful, especially if you were a private investigator.

Now imagine you had that memory – but no control over when the recall would happen or what would trigger it. Not so useful, especially if it blanked out the here and now when you were in the middle of something important.

Brenna Spector has this condition – it’s called hyperthymestic syndrome, and is regarded as a neurological disorder rather than a useful talent. Sometimes it really is useful; Brenna never forgets a phone number or a car registration. But when her memory ambushes her, it’s more inconvenience than gift; it makes driving dangerous, plays havoc with relationships and gets in the way of anything resembling ordinary life. 

In Into the Dark, Brenna’s own past moves centre stage when she is asked by an old employer to help trace a young woman with a high-profile online persona whose true identity is a mystery, but who appears to have intimate knowledge of things to which only Brenna herself and her sister, missing for decades, should be party.

It proves to be a dangerous quest, for Brenna herself and for others, including Trent, her streetwise but oddly naive sidekick who happens to be a computer genius. Carjacking, drugs and attempted kidnapping all play a part, and Brenna’s instant recall proves both blessing and curse as she attempts to track down the mysterious Lula Belle.

Gaylin weaves Brenna’s memories deftly into the present-day narrative, along with a personal life which includes Maya her teenage daughter, Jim her ex-husband and Faith his new wife, and Nick Morasco, an unusually sensitive detective to whom she is (mutually) attracted.

A retired gangster, a plucky old lady and a bewildered Hollywood talent agent join the cast as the story progresses, and the bad guys include Diandra, a stunningly beautiful starlet on a mission. Which just goes to show, in crime fiction you can never judge by appearances.

Brenna Spector is one of the more interesting series protagonists to come my way in recent months. I recommend starting with the previous episode, And She Was, which sets the scene in more detail – but whatever you do, don’t miss this one.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Alison Gaylin's debut book was nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best First Novel category. A graduate of Northwestern University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Alison lives with her husband and daughter in upstate New York.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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