PHANTOM INSTINCT by Meg Gardiner: Book Review

Bartender Harper Flynn was in the midst of a busy night at Xenon, a very “in” club in Los Angeles.  Suddenly shots are fired, but the hired security is so hemmed in by the crowd that they can’t get to the shooters.  In the melee Harper’s boyfriend Drew Westerman is shot, and despite her efforts to pull him to safety, he dies.

Questioned by the police afterward, Harper maintains she saw three gunmen in hoodies shooting into the crowd, but nearly all the other witnesses say there were only two.  The sole person agreeing with Harper is Aiden Garrison, a sheriff’s deputy who was there with his partner.  But Aiden suffered a traumatic brain injury that night, and he now has Frégoli Syndrome. 

Named after the French quick-change artist Leopoldo Frégoli, sufferers from this disorder believe that the people around them are actually other people in disguise, capable of changing their gender or dress in a moment.  Aiden is on medical leave from the sheriff’s office because, as he says, “I can become convinced that a random person–a neighbor, or somebody crossing the street, is the shooter.” 

He is still convinced that he and Harper are right, that there was a third shooter, but his mind is now too compromised for the authorities to believe his account.  With Harper, then, being the sole credible survivor who insists on a third man, the police have closed the case.

At the one year anniversary of Drew’s death, Harper attends a memorial service for him.  Harper thinks she sees a man, partially hidden in a grove of trees a few hundred yards away,  who reminds her of the hooded figure at the nightclub.  She tries to follow him but is unsuccessful. 

Frustrated, Harper tracks Aiden down and tells him what she saw at the memorial.  Aiden says that he too has seen the mysterious figure since the shooting, several times in fact, but with his current medical condition no one believes him.  But when Aiden tells Harper that he glimpsed a tattoo with the letters ERO on the shooter’s spine as he raised his arm to shoot that night, she reveals her history to him. 

There was one letter you didn’t see, Harper says.  The letter Z; the word is ZERO.  It’s the nickname of  Eddie Azerov, the person who had forced her, as a teenager in a dysfunctional family, into a life of crime.  And so Harper and Aiden, the only two people who believe in the third man, begin a hesitant collaboration to find him.

Phantom Instinct is a roller coaster ride.  The plot beautifully explores the dilemma of two people who know what they saw but are unable to convince anyone else and are forced to work together to find Zero with no official assistance.  In doing so, Harper is led straight back into her troubled past, and Aiden must confront his fear of another Frégoli episode that would endanger them both.

Meg Gardiner has written a mystery with intriguing characters and a totally suspenseful plot.  Harper and Aiden are flawed, but they are determined to bring Zero and his cohorts to justice.  But each step they take brings them deeper into danger.

You can read more about Meg Gardiner, recipient of the Edgar for China Lake, at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

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