Intelligent and challenging

2011-12-28 00:00

YOU don’t have to venture too far into this novel to realise it’s not going to be the most cheerful of reads or that it’s likely to end well.

Steve Farris, the book’s narrator, is a man whose life has been both defined and transfigured by an appalling family calamity — his mother, brother and sister were all shot to death by his father, and he only happened to escape their fate because he had stopped over at a friend’s house instead of returning home straight after school.

Brought up by an uncle for whom he had no special affection, he has, for years, tried to keep the memory of this awful event bottled up inside him and lead what he regards as an “ordinary” life.

This all changes, how­ever, when he is approached by Rebecca Soltero, an author who is writing a book about men who murdered their families and who he starts meeting in secret.

Under her relentless probing, the carefully constructed defences that he has put up to keep his real feelings at bay start to crumble, and it becomes plain that Steve is both lost and floundering.

Memories and fact shift in and out of focus as he flits between past and present, and tries to fill in the gaps, inconsistencies and question marks that hang over that fateful day. The closer he gets to the truth the more his own life begins to unravel.

While some readers may not find the mixture palatable, Mortal Memory, with its focus on an isolated figure confronted with extremity, is written with all the tension and pace of a first-rate thriller. Author Thomas H. Cook is especially good at charting the connections between the members of the family, gradually revealing the tensions, resentments and jealousies that culminated in the father’s final, desperate, act.

Intelligent and challenging, the book avoids melodrama and easy resolution, depicting instead, bereavement and alienation with beguiling intimacy.

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