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Posts Tagged ‘locked-in syndrome’

IF SHE WAKES by Michael Koryta: Book Review

It’s hard to imagine anything more terrifying than waking up and finding oneself unable to move or speak.  That is what happens to Tara Berkley, a college student who is asked to drive a distinguished scientist, Dr. Amandi Oltamu, to a venue where he will deliver a keynote speech.

Dr. Oltamu seems strangely reluctant for Tara to bring him to the school auditorium, and he insists on stopping along the way and taking photos with his phone.  After snapping several shots, he gives her the phone and asks her to lock it safely in her car.  Then he further puzzles her by saying that she should drive on alone, and he will walk the rest of the way by himself and meet her at the college.

Admitting to herself that she is unnerved by the man’s odd behavior, Tara is about to step into her car when she hears the sound of a van’s engine behind her.  The van’s  headlights are off, and it is heading directly toward her and Dr. Oltamu.  Tara throws herself away from her car and toward the river, but as she does she can see that the doctor is pinned against her car.  That’s all she knows before she hits her head on a stone pillar and is catapulted into the water.

Although the police believe that what happened to Dr. Oltamu and Tara was a tragic accident, with the van’s driver admitting that he was at fault, there is no one to point out the discrepancies in his story.  Dr. Oltamu is dead from the impact of the collision, and Tara is in the hospital in a deep coma that will eventually be diagnosed as locked-in syndrome, leaving her unable to communicate.

If She Wakes is told in multiple voices.  The reader is privy to Tara’s thoughts, which are jumbled and confused at first but gradually become clearer as she begins to remember what happened at “the accident” scene.

A second voice belongs to Dax, a teenage psychopath who hired the man who killed Dr. Oltamu.

A third voice is Abby Kaplan’s, a rookie insurance investigator and former race car driver.  She was hired to look into the crash and make certain that the college has no liability in the case.  Even though the driver has admitted negligence, Abby’s boss wants all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, so she goes to the river bank to reconstruct the scene, her history as a driver making her the perfect investigator.

Her take-away is that it was no accident, that the crash was deliberate.  But then why would the driver take the blame?  It’s not until the next day that his body is found in what appears to be a suicide; although the college and Abby’s boss are satisfied that that proves he was at fault, Abby knows there must be more to the story and continues to try to find out the truth.

If She Wakes is a nail-biting thriller.  There are more deaths, and the people who seem trustworthy are not.  The tension continues to the last page, and the familiar advice don’t start this before you go to bed has never been more valid.

You can read more about Michael Koryta at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

LOCKED IN by Marcia Muller: Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series ever since I read Edwin of the Iron Shoes. That was back in 1982, and both Shar and I have aged (gracefully, I’d like to think) ever since.

In the latest series’ entry, Locked In, Shar is shot in her San Francisco office late one night. When she awakens several days later, she is told she’s a victim of locked-in syndrome, something that will be familiar to readers/viewers of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  The author of that novel, Jean-Dominique Bauby, wrote his memoir while virtually a total prisoner of his body–victims of locked-in syndrome can neither talk nor move, but they are able to hear, see, and understand everything that’s said to them.  In Bauby’s case, the locked-in syndrome was caused by a massive stroke; in Locked In, the bullet to Shar’s brain had the same devastating effect.

Hy Ripinsky, Shar’s husband, and all her colleagues at the McCone Agency, are working to find the person who shot her.  There’s her nephew Mick, the computer whiz; Rae Kelleher, married to Mick’s country singer father and a private investigator; Julia Raphael, former prostitute turned P.I.; and several others.  Their only hope is that one of the agency’s still-to-be-solved cases is behind the attack, and so they are determined to find the culprit.

In fact, there are several unsolved cases at the McCone Agency that may have a bearing on the murder attempt.  There’s corruption in San Francisco’s city hall, a young street walker who turns up dead and is not identified, a missing man.  Are they all separate, or is there something tying them together that can shed light on what happened to Sharon McCone?

One of the best things about this series is following Shar’s life. In my March 9th About Marilyn blog, I wrote how important it is to me to know the back story about the lead in a series.  I didn’t mention Marcia Muller in that post, and I should have.  Of all the mystery writers I can think of, Muller has done the best job of creating not only a back story but a continuing story for her heroine.   Each book reveals a bit more.

Shar is one of six siblings, and each one has his/her own distinct history.  In the more than two dozen novels in this series, Shar and family have been through a lot–marriages, divorces, remarriages, suicide, the truth about Shar’s birth, and more.  It makes Shar real, someone the reader can identify with, even if the reader cannot quite put herself or himself in Shar’s many life-altering or life-threatening adventures.

Marcia Muller has been quoted numerous times saying that she’s tired of being referred to as the “founding mother of the hardboiled contemporary female private investigator”; that by now, given the number of excellent female private eyes, she’s more like the grandmother.  It’s true that there are now dozens of women following in the footsteps of Muller/McCone, but few who do it so well.