Friday, August 14, 2015

A mystery novel about Alzheimer's

Trust No One

By Paul Cleave

Publisher: Atria Books

Pub. Date: August 4, 2015

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In Paul Cleave's Trust No One Jerry Grey is a crime writer that publishes under the pseudonym Henry Cutter. With 13 popular novels out, he is doing quite well, He has a loving wife and daughter and little to complain about until he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the relatively young age of 49. When we meet Jerry, he is in a nursing home and finds himself confessing to numerous murders. At first no one believes him. The murders are from his novels. Yet evidence soon appears that implicates him in a number of deaths of women that have happened while Jerry was in the nursing home and when he wandered away into the area they were murdered.

This year there seems to be a surge of books about crime writers with split or sociopathic personalities. First there was Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates and then there was The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango. Both are excellent works. Now we have a third but with a different tact. Jerry Gray's new personality is not a psychological entity or a personality disorder. It is something more tragic; the destruction of the individual caused by Alzheimer's. What starts as a mystery about unsolved murders becomes an intriguing look at a devastating and fatal illness. We follow Jerry's decompensation through present third person narrative plus "madness journal" entries, as Jerry calls them, that are in both second person and first person narratives. Jerry toys with and then becomes obsessed with the idea that the disease is bringing on two different persona, "Captain A" which is the Alzheimer's controlling him and his alternate persona Henry Cutter who may or not be the murderer. What Cleave does very well is to portray Jerry Grey in his varying personalities and escalating decompensation. You instantly identify with the psychological agony he is experiencing yet Jerry also stays a consistent presence throughout the book. Who is killed is part of the mystery and we learn this slowly as the action takes place. It creates a nice build-up and some nice turn of events. But what takes hold, at least in the first half to two thirds of the novel, is a tense development of a likeable character succumbing to a cruel disease.

Only if it stayed there. But this is a mystery and there has to be a resolution. It is that resolution that is troubling. So much builds up that we are presented with a dilemma, how much unbelievable circumstances can we handle until our willingness to suspend disbelief crumbles. I don't think it got there but it was close. We are left with a solution, actually two solutions, that just doesn't sit all that well. When the end comes, it feels like the author is trying to lure us back to the tragedy of the disease yet that train has left the station. So we end up with two-thirds of a great psychological suspense novel coupled with a who-dunnit whose formula is underscored by the a strange need to place the gimmick before the honesty and frankness of the first half.

So I end up with the strange dilemma of recommending half a novel. But once you read half of it you will be yearning to find out what is really going on and will happily enter who-dunnit land. There is nothing wrong with that but i just wished the ending was as original as the setup. Overall, it ends up a good mystery so I will give it a cautious recommendation realizing that sometimes the reader's expectations do not fit the writer's.

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