And She Was, by Alison Gaylin

>> Wednesday, August 28, 2013

TITLE: And She Was
AUTHOR: Alison Gaylin

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Mystery

On a summer afternoon in 1998, six-year-old Iris Neff walked away from a barbecue in her small suburban town... and vanished.

Missing persons investigator Brenna Spector has a rare neurological disorder that enables her to recall every detail of every day of her life. A blessing and a curse, it began in childhood, when her older sister stepped into a strange car never to be seen again, and it’s proven invaluable in her work. But it hasn’t helped her solve the mystery that haunts her above all others—and it didn’t lead her to little Iris. When a local woman, Carol Wentz, disappears eleven years later, Brenna uncovers bizarre connections between the missing woman, the long-gone little girl... and herself.
Brenna Spector is a private investigator who specialises in missing persons cases. Her own sister disappeared many years earlier, and that not only affected Brenna's career aspirations, but her very brain. Something changed in her, and since then, she's had something called hyperthymestic syndrome. Basically, she can remember every single detail of everything that's happened since then. This is useful for work, but since Brenna is not completely in control of it (anything in her current surroundings can pull her into a sort of fugue states, as it triggers an earlier memory) it can be havoc on her life.

As the book starts, Brenna is contacted by Detective Nick Morasco because her card has been found in the wallet of a woman who's gone missing. It's all tied into the disappearance of a little girl some years earlier, as the woman used to be the girl's neighbour and her wallet was found in her old house. And in turn, that little girl's disappearance had attracted Brenna's attention when it happened because one of the clues reported in the papers made her think it might be related to her own sister's disappearance.

Brenna is a really interesting character, and I liked Gaylin's portrayal of her. Her hyperthymesia is not just a convenient plot device, it's integral to her character and personality. It's always there, sometimes at the forefront, sometimes hanging in the background, but it's something that pervades all of Brenna's life and decisions. It affects how she conducts her work (she must be very careful to have something grounding her to the present, otherwise she might just get lost in memories at any time), and it affects her personal life, especially how she relates to her daughter and how she used to relate to her now-ex husband. But at the same time, Brenna is more than a woman whose memory works in a different way. She's a person, and a fully realised character.

So that was good. The thing is, the rest of the book wasn't up to that level. Oh, some things were good (the secondary characters are all interesting and non-clich├ęd, and Brenna and Morasco's investigation is sensible), but I found myself somewhat disappointed with the mystery.

The premise was fascinating. I really couldn't see what on earth could be going on, and I couldn't wait to find out. But after a while, the revelations started not to make that much sense, and in the end, the resolution felt a bit unsatisfying. It wasn't awful, it just didn't give me a sense of everything finally fitting in. It was an "oh, ok", instead of an "a-ha!".



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