Gardiner, Meg - 'The Memory Collector'
The title of this book caught my eye when it was offered via Twitter to anyone quick enough off the mark to grab a free copy. THE MEMORY COLLECTOR made me think of one of my favourite movies, Memento. With good reason. The plot starts with a man suffering from short-term memory loss – the inability to form new memories – just like the hero in Memento. What's more, Gardiner's style is whippy and visual. Genuinely cinematic. You see rather than read the story.
Gardiner's lead character, Jo Beckett, is a forensic psychiatrist. She's used to working with dead people, piecing together clues from their lives to help solve their deaths. Here she's pulled into the hunt for Ian Kanan, whose memory loss makes him an erratic suspect, or is he a victim?
Kanan is pulled off a flight into San Francisco after behaving oddly, and violently. He's restrained, and Jo Beckett is asked to assess his condition. An MRI scan reveals that something is eating Kanan's brain cells, causing irreparable damage. Kanan is devastated by the prognosis. Five minutes later, he's forgotten all about it and has to be told (and devastated) all over again.
Jo's initial sympathy for Kanan's predicament is tempered when, having forgotten who she is, he holds her hostage in a bid to escape the hospital. Jo glimpses writing on Kanan's arms: 'Saturday they die', and a series of names. She escapes, but so does Kanan. Fearing he means to go on a killing spree, Jo alerts the police. A manhunt begins across San Francisco.
The police are hunting Kanan. But Kanan is also hunting. Only he keeps forgetting who and why. Gardiner uses his memory loss to great effect, sometimes making Kanan heroic, at other times not. No one knows exactly what he'll do next, least of all Kanan.
Meanwhile, the flight crew who restrained him at the outset of the story are showing symptoms similar to Kanan's. Erratic behaviour, amnesia, paranoia. People are being poisoned, with fatal consequences for those around them. Jo must find the source of the poison and stop it. The obstacles in her way include an over-sexed monkey and his geeky owner, a scorned woman with a mad scheme to get her man, and Jo's own love life which never quite gets the attention it deserves.
Gardiner juggles this blend of comedy, high drama, action and romance with dexterity. You never doubt that the action will lead to the right places, and the set pieces are as panoramic as anything you'll see on the big screen. This was my first time reading Gardiner, but I'll definitely be returning for more.
Sarah Hilary, England
Sarah Hilary is the Bristol-based winner of the Sense Creative Writing Award 2010 and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize 2008. She is currently working on a crime novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory
More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.