Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
The picturesque New England that Walker’s debut novel is set, is at odds with the deeply troubling narrative tale of memory slippage and survival of the most terrible of traumas. Though, what follows will not be easily forgotten, for it is indeed deeply memorable, especially when considering it is a debut work.
Though compared to the recent bestsellers, Flynn’s Gone Girl and Hawkin’s Girl of a Train; I would consider it more of a thematic cousin to William Landay’s Defending Jacob. The reason is not restricted to the New England setting, but what the crime does to the family, and the close knit community in its aftermath.
Teenager Jenny Kramer leaves a party, for a walk in the woods nearby to clear her head after an issue with the host. It’s a decision that will have horrific consequences, not just for her, but for many others, especially her parents Charlotte and Tom.
In that wood during the party, Jenny Kramer found herself raped in a brutal assault that scarred her physically as well as psychologically. Physical wounds heal [though she retains a scar on her back], but mental ones are not so easy to treat. With PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] there are breakthroughs which include both the cognitive, as well as the pharmaceutical. It’s the latter that is deployed to help Jenny cope, but it does have a cost.
Told via therapist Dr. Alan Forrester, in a strange style, the narrative unfolds initially at a slow pace, but soon, matters start to come undone; and the pace quickens as Kramer struggles with her sanity. An experimental drug is prescribed to take the pain of memory away, but what remains may be worse. The perpetrator was never discovered, though traces of the monster reside in a scar on her back and most crucially in the dark recesses of Jenny Kramer’s mind, or do they? The therapist uses physical stimuli to help tease out the monsters that hide in Jenny’s memory. We all know that memory is far from reliable, so as revelations appear, they pose issues to the community, as well as the Kramer family as fissures appear within Tom and Charlotte’s marriage.
Because we all fear the unknown.
Ethical questions, the fears of small town communities and their hidden depths are explored, as they provoke thought in the reader while following this disturbing [and at times distressing] narrative.
The dénouement compensates for the initial slow pace and makes one wish to re-read specific sections that preceded it. For a debut, this is an assured and disturbing thriller, and one that provokes deep thought, but a warning, as there are some difficult sections that must be traversed if one seeks what we consider ‘the truth’.
In a word, revelatory; for what lurks in our minds, and in those who share this reality can be terrifying as well as what we term "revelatory".