My timing may be off for conjuring all things creepy and mysterious, but somehow these three books found their way to me in the last month and I didn’t want to delay sharing them. And honestly, if all you read in the summer are beachy, light reads you’ll get bored. Sure it’s great to be scared on a dark and stormy night, but it’s just as fun when you’re sitting in broad daylight glued to a book tense with suspense.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: May 31st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
True horror, you see, comes not from the savagery of the unexpected, but from the corruption of everyday objects, spaces. To take a thing we see every day, a thing we take for granted as normal—a child’s bedroom—and transform it into something sinister, untrustworthy—is to undermine the very fabric of life.
A private plane goes down in the Atlantic between Martha’s Vineyard and NYC with the billionaire owner of a news-as-entertainment network, an about-to-be-indicted banker who launders money for Syria, North Korea and Libya, their families, an Israeli security guard and a recovering alcoholic painter. And that is all you need to know about Noah Hawley’s new thriller Before the Fall. All right, the painter and the billionaire’s four-year-old son are the only two survivors of the crash.
In short order, Hawley begins to peel back the layers of every character in Before the Fall, building the tension with unsavory pasts, personal issues and mysterious backgrounds. Hawley then adds a voracious media with a 24/7 news cycle fronted by a lard-ass bully who trades in gossip, innuendo, lies and conjecture as opposed to facts and the truth and ratchets the can’t-put-down factor to Mach 10.
Before the Fall is getting a lot of buzz from readers and bloggers alike and it deserves it for no other reason than everyone has a very different take on many of the novel’s components. For me, this is an action thriller and if the ending felt weak in comparison to the ferocity of the rest of the novel, I’m willing to concede that maybe Hawley planned it that way. Sometimes the truth is whole lot more simple and mundane. Which makes it even more tragic.
Lisa Unger’s newest book, Ink and Bone, has a charming small town in upstate New York surrounded by spooky woods populated by people who have lived off the grid for generations. Good start, right? Add a young woman, Finley, who has reached her twenties and can no longer deny that she has psychic abilities. Combine the town with Finley and lovely blonde little girls disappearing from the area and you’ve got a mystery. The most recent occurrence is the daughter of a woman who has a problem with painkillers and a father so distracted by his affair that he’s caught off-guard in the woods and his daughter is taken.
Like the garbage can alcohol brews you used to drink in college (OK, I used to drink in college), Lisa Unger throws almost everything into Ink and Bone. And just like that drink, you’re going to want to gulp this novel because it hits hard and fast. There are a lot of elements at play but Unger blends them with a deft touch, upping the ante by flipping between Finley and everyone trying to find the little girl and those trying to keep her hidden.
At three-fourths of the way through this novel was 4 stars, but by the end a combination of an unexpected fantasy aspect with the all-too-ugly reality of men who are evil and abusive was one ingredient too many and left me with a bit of a headache. Bottom line: this is by-the-pool, devour-in-one-sitting reading and if all the elements don’t quite line up or satisfy, it’s all right, it’s still highly entertaining and creepy.
All is not Forgotten gets off to shaky start with an unnamed man discussing the rape of a fifteen-year-old girl. Of course, this takes the creep factor up to ten in any readers’ mind, because aside from revealing he’s a father, you have to wonder—is he the perp? He’s not and his role in the novel quickly becomes clear, but this vagueness combined with a formatting choice (conversations in italics rather than quote marks) that feels disjointed meant I wasn’t pulled into the novel until almost halfway through. A long way to hold on with doubts. But then, author Wendy Walker goes all-in on plot twists and I got some inkling as to why this novel is getting not only massive buzz, but being optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon.
Jenny is the girl and after her rape she is quickly given a controversial drug used treat PTSD. A drug that is supposed to wipe her mind clean and allow her to move on without the psychic damage of rape except
Jenny had no memory of her rape, but the terror lived in her body. The physical memory, the emotional response that was now programmed into her, had nothing to attach to—no set of facts to place it in context.
It is not a spoiler to say that Alan Forrester is actually a psychiatrist and he is treating not only Jenny, but both her parents and a Navy SEAL who was also given the Treatment, but still has PTSD issues. They’re all trying to find their way through trauma and he’s helping them. What is jarring about this is his focus on his own place in the events of his patients’ lives. On more than one occasion he humble brags with statements like ‘…was beyond satisfying to me professionally’, giving the distinct feeling that his experience in their treatment is as important as his patients’ needs. This came off as more annoying than creepy and did not play into the plot.
I mentioned All is Not Forgotten is being optioned for a movie because as the novel progresses Walker power loads the plot, which is why, ultimately it read like a screenplay. There are numerous interesting questions raised about family relationships and marriage, but with no depth. Not to mention the Treatment, which is a fascinating subject on its own. Can trauma ever be completely erased? Without exploration the story ends up flat so that when the truth is revealed, it may be a surprise, but it’s not that interesting.
If you’ve read All is Not Forgotten then stop by Sarah’s Book Shelves for an in-depth discussion of the novel (spoilers included). Link here.