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Monday 17 June 2019

‘Forget My Name’ by J S Monroe

Published by Head of Zeus,
4 October 2018.  
ISBN: 978-1-78669804-9 (HB)

If I had to sum up this complex psychological thriller in one word, it would have to be unusual.

Memory loss is a popular trope in fiction of this kind, but I've never previously come across a novel which uses it in quite this way. A young woman turns up out of the blue on the doorstep of a pretty cottage, and claims she lives there, and the occupants she finds in residence are intruders. The flaw in her claim is that she has absolutely no idea who she is; she doesn't even remember her name. All she knows is that she found a train ticket to the village in her pocket, and her feet carried her to the cottage as if they were treading a well-worn path.

Tony and Laura, the cottage's occupants, are bewildered. Tony dubs the young woman Jemma, because, he says, she looks like a Jemma. They take her in and call the local GP – who appears to recognize her. She also looks familiar to Luke, a journalist who lives in the village; though his pub buddy Sean thinks she's a Russian 'sleeper' spy.

That's where it all starts to get very complicated indeed, and before too long the reader is made to wonder exactly who knows what and who is telling the truth. The story unfolds in a series of short chapters, each from a different viewpoint – and more power to the author for making sure each character is well defined so that it's always clear whose view it is, and keeping a firm hold on who knows what. At one point, at least three investigations are being pursued, each focusing on a different angle; and when the truth finally begins to emerge, it's stranger than you could have imagined at the start of the story.

Atmosphere is vital to the success of a psychological thriller, and this novel has plenty of that, from crowded pubs and waiting rooms where everyone seems to be staring to dense, sinister woodland and a bleak towpath. And it's not without a few moments of humour: DI Hart's reaction to vegan food which proves unexpectedly appetizing provides some light relief, as does Sean's drunken obsession with the Russians.

Forget My Name has a little of everything, and a lot of the essentials: interesting characters, a great sense of place, bags of atmosphere and above all a labyrinthine mystery underpinning it all, with a brilliant red herring that keeps you on the edge of your seat till it's resolved. J S Monroe is one to watch.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

J.S. Monroe After reading English at Cambridge University, he worked as a freelance journalist in London, writing features for most of Britain's national newspapers, as well as contributing regularly to BBC Radio 4. He was also chosen for Carlton TV's acclaimed screenwriters course. Between 1998 and 2000, he was Delhi correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and he also wrote the Last Word column in The Week Magazine (India) from 1995, when he lived in Cochin, South India, to 2012. His first novel, The Riot Act ,was  published by Serpent's Tail. Dead Spy Runnin', his third novel and the first in the Daniel Marchant (or 'Legoland') trilogy, was published by HarperCollins and has been translated into five languages
Jon lives in Wiltshire with his wife and three children.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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