As one who is forever wary of book cover blurbs, I approached this much-praised offering with even more caution than usual. Look at those blasts from high-status reviewers: Mind-bending, Unputdownable, Masterful. Surely hyperbole gone mad. There are six more pages of them inside, all of them in the same OTT vein.
An enormous pinch of salt was clearly needed. Let’s not be over-influenced by the work of publishers’ spin doctors gone into overdrive.
But I succumbed, got sucked in. And before I knew it, I was hurtling along on the mind-bending journey promised on the cover.
The book was found in the shop’s crime fiction section among all the usual suspects, a massive one-size-fits-all genre. Fair enough, there are hints of crime and a detective wanders in and out of the narrative. There is also a generous measure of duplicity, drama, red herrings, confrontations and betrayals. There’s even a hint of sex.
But there is so much more. The story spirals through artificial intelligence, autism, robotics, big business, corporate shenanigans and the workaholic lifestyles of Silicon Valley.
At the heart of it is tall and striking redhead Abbie Cullen, hired almost on a whim by intensely driven British tech wizard Tim Scott as artist in residence for his groundbreaking Silicon Valley start-up. A whirlwind romance and a lavish wedding and honeymoon quickly follow.
Five years on and Abbie wakes in hospital after a serious car crash, her memory seriously fractured and with scant recall of her earlier life … until the day she discovers Abbie Cullen had been pronounced dead, killed in the crash.
As the “new” Abbie rebuilds her memory and continues her life with Tim, others reveal differing versions of events over the intervening five years; a web of false trails, half-truths interwoven with her own slowly returning memories.
The several narratives merge and then divide. Tim provides unreliable versions and motives. Abbie receives messages from her “real” self. The pace ever quickens. A true page-turner.
Author JP Delaney describes it as “a novel of psychological suspense, not a techno-thriller”. Thus, although the driving theme is one of AI and the eerie possibilities in the creation and use of cobots – robotic companions – the technical jargon is kept to a minimum.
Only when the plot involves the main couple’s agonising decisions over how best to nurture and educate their autistic son does an excess of detail intrude to briefly slow the narrative. Which is understandable when one learns the author is father to an adult autistic son and has long been battling with the agaonising complexities facing Abbie and Tim.
The writing is never less than concise, taut and economic, painting vivid word pictures of the several protagonists.
As the story hurtles towards its ending, we remain with little idea which route it will follow as Abbie and son Danny battle setbacks and obstructions on their way to a promised haven. Twists and turns to the very end.
That unputdownable tagline is definitely deserved.