Crime Fiction

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Author: Lisa Jewell

A new author to Freyja, and now a firm favourite.
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What exactly is ‘Crime Fiction’? Within the genre there are so many sub-genres – thriller, detective, mystery, espionage/spy, even suspenseful romance. And many are labelled ‘Psychological Thriller’. I tend to prefer reading these to more straightforward detective stories.

I’ve recently discovered a writer who I think could be classed as a thriller writer – Lisa Jewell. I’d never read any of her books before, but came upon one that I thought sounded interesting, called I Found You from 2016. It was the write-up on the back that first caught my eye:

'Lily has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night, she is stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Alice finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement she invites him into her home.’

Then there was the tagline: ‘Everyone has secrets. What if you can’t remember yours?’ and the cover photo showing a man’s legs walking away in the rain. All these things made me think psychological thriller.

The third thing which attracted me was just something small and quite childish – the book had a hand drawn map of a small seaside town in the front. Ever since I was a child and read the Milly Molly Mandy books by Joyce Lankester Brisley, with their charming maps of Milly Molly Mandy’s village, I’ve been attracted to location maps in books.

At first, this story is told from the perspectives of the two women, but quite soon there’s another perspective – the story of an ordinary family from Croydon on holiday in 1993 in the village of the map. The two teenagers in this family, a 15-year old girl and 17-year old boy, are befriended, then stalked, by a 19-year old local lad who turns out to be a psychopath, and things very quickly become nasty.

In the present the newly-wed woman searches for her husband; the police become involved and discover that he is not who he claims to be. So, who is he? Is he the man with no memory or is he someone else?

The story of Alice and the lost man progresses almost like a love story. Against her will and better judgement she trusts him, helps him and falls for him, not knowing a thing about him.

From now on my ideas of who is who, then and now, kept shifting. Are the two men one and the same, or are they not? Are they the two teenagers from 23 years ago or not? And if they are, who is who? And this turns out to be the central question. There are very few solid clues; it is a long way into the book before it becomes clear who is actually who.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll only say that although this was a psychological thriller it’s not quite like the usual ones. We all know the psychological thriller formula: girl in peril, usually from a man, rescued in the end through her own efforts or through those of a detective. More or less.

Well this was different, but in a good way. For one thing, no damsel in distress. I found it very gripping. I got to like Alice. Although I found her too trusting, she’s basically a kind but muddled woman. I also liked her amnesiac (whom her children name Frank). He seemed a bit of a wimp, but then who wouldn’t be if they were in a Fugue State (now more commonly known as Dissociative Fugue) and only getting frightening glimpses of a past they did not recognise.

Lily was not so likeable. She seemed very hard, quite unpleasant, bossy and unkind, so the opposite of Alice. But then she was alone in a foreign country, not knowing a soul and with very little money. Enough to put anyone on edge.

I like the way the author has created two such different women. I also found the two teenaged boys in 1993 very believable. One is a thoroughly nasty piece of works, a stalker and a would-be rapist, the other is a basically decent boy who is out of his depth.

This was almost a read-in-one-sitting kind of book. I can recommend it. 4 stars.

I am now more than half way through another Lisa Jewell book Then She Was Gone from 2017. This is also a psychological thriller with a difference. A disappeared girl, whose mother 10 years down the line meets a charming new man and his 9-year daughter who’s the spitting image of her lost child. This may sound predictable and I haven’t finished yet, but how we get through this convoluted tale is just as gripping as the first Lisa Jewell book. So far, I will also give this 4-Stars.
Freyja

PS: Out of interest I looked up Fugue State or Dissociative Fugue. The author has got this spot-on word for word. Psychology Today online describes it thus:

"Dissociative fugue is a psychological state in which a person loses awareness of their identity or other important autobiographical information and also engages in some form of unexpected travel. People who experience a dissociative fugue may suddenly find themselves in a place, such as the beach or at work (bewildered wandering) with no memory of getting there. The onset of a dissociative fugue state is usually sudden and follows a traumatic or highly stressful event."

So quite different from the sort of amnesia which was often used in the past as plots in books and films. The Mayo Clinic has this definition of amnesia:
"‘Amnesia refers to the loss of memories, such as facts, information and experiences. Though forgetting your identity is a common plot device in movies and television, that's not generally the case in real-life amnesia. Instead, people with amnesia — also called amnestic syndrome — usually know who they are. But they may have trouble learning new information and forming new memories."