Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"The Memory Collector" by Meg Gardiner

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett, who normally gets involved when a subject is dead, is called upon to unlock the secrets of a live specimen. His name is Ian Kanan and he is suffering from anterograde amnesia, which leaves him unable to form new memories. Basically, every five minutes he forgets everything he's just learnt. He's caused a bit of an incident after trying to disembark from a plane - while it was still in the air.

Things only get more complicated when he manages to escape, leaving Jo and Lt. Amy Tang struggling to keep up with what he might be trying to achieve - since he can't remember himself! As the story progresses, we learn that his son, Seth Kanan, has been kidnapped. We also learn about something called "Slick", an unstable biological agent formed through nanotechnology - and very likely the cause of Ian's incurable amnesia. Even worse, it's contagious, and other people on the same flight as Ian are beginning to suffer similar symptoms.

The only thing about Ian Kanan they know for sure is that he's determined to complete his mission, but they can't decide whether he might be friend or foe, or if innocent lives might be lost in the crossfire.

Before I go further and point out what irked me, let me just say - wow! I re-read my review of "The Dirty Secrets Club", which I still remember disliking, and can't believe that a series could go from quite terrible to absolutely terrific. "The Memory Collector" is a real keeper. While the predecessor synthetically injected action sequences into its standard narrative, this effort was much more reminiscent of the Evan Delaney novels, in which the action was an integral and believable part of the proceedings. This one hardly lets up!

Gardiner does an admirable job of releasing plot information at the right time to both keep an air of mystery about the proceedings whilst not leaving the reader in a state of confusion as to what is going on. It's much easier to enjoy the action sequences when you understand why they are occurring. Towards the end, her bag of tricks begins to empty out, but it's a minor quibble - everything about this novel is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, eagerly flicking through the pages.

Of course, the whole thing is slightly ludicrous, but it's just so entertaining. I'm sure the anterograde amnesia thing has been done before, but it's delivered so well here. Ian Kanan keeps flicking between unstable bad guy and determined good guy, so you're never sure what's going to happen next. He's a really intriguing, well-drawn character with a genuinely involving character arc. The pacing is dead on and there are some good plot twists.

Any complaints? Of course! I still don't understand how Jo's job differs from anything an every-day detective might do. She's supposed to decipher a person's life - but so do detectives! I don't think I'll ever be fully sold on her profession. Secondly, I really couldn't stand the character of Gabe Quintana, Jo's boyfriend. The same problem with "The Dirty Secrets Club" is evident here. Gabe has absolutely zero personality. He's straight out of romantic suspense central casting. While I don't think this novel would classify as romantic suspense - it's too good - Gabe belongs in some second-grade Lisa Jackson book. Get rid of him!

So, yes, this one stretches credibility, but it's just so flat-out entertaining that I didn't care. I didn't care that Jo's job description is ill-defined. I didn't care that Gabe Quintana is a personality-free bore. I was able to forgive a seemingly never-ending icky sex scene. "The Memory Collector" was well-plotted, provided non-stop action and a fascinating character in a fascinating situation (Ian Kanan). It's one of the best books I've read this year and I'll be checking out the other entries in the series.

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