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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, January 27, 2006

Blood Memory, by Greg Iles

Book #3, Blood Memory: started 1/18, finished 1/25

I've been struggling with where to fit Greg Iles in terms of genre, or in terms of comparisons to other writers. The best comparison I can make would be to filmmaker Stephen Soderbergh, the director of sex, lies and videotape, Traffic, and Kafka, but also Ocean's 11 and Erin Brockovich. It's not that they're great artists who start small, but then work on mainstream topics, it's that the work is unabashedly mainstream. It's so mainstream and so high quality that, hopefully, it will raise the bar.

I'm a slow reader, and at 764 pages I expected to be finished in a month, but I finished in 6 days. Now, that in itself doesn't say much (I finished the Da Vinci Code in 3 days and have nothing but contempt for Dan Brown's writing style), but this was different. He made these characters live in my head, and he made me live through their lives.

The story is about a Cat Ferry, a "forensic odontologist" from Natchez, MI, who must solve a serial murder case in New Orleans. Several men have been found shot to death, but some antemortem bite marks spark her involvement. The crime scenes spur panic attacks and blackouts, and combined with her alcoholism and chaotic relationship with a married NOPD detective, she is quickly removed from the case. She goes home, and the panic attacks become flashbacks. Hijinks ensue.

I haven't done much reading about repressed memories and child abuse, but from what little I have read, the victims are made to be saints and angels, who have spent their lives in fear. What makes Blood Memory different is just how deeply flawed Cat Ferry turns out to be. She drinks even though she is pregnant. She violates all criminal investigation protocols for selfish reasons. She has no qualms about being termed "homewrecker". She is so flawed that, until you learn her history, it is difficult to sympathize with her. So when the history is revealed, the tragedy is made even more horrific when contrasted with these flaws. The abuse has destroyed her, and she is only barely capable of redemption.

Set against her character is the story itself, which is excellent. Sometimes it stretches a little thin and there are some convenient coincidences. I was able to forgive them, because this is probably the first plot-driven book I've read where the characters are what keeps me turning the pages.

It has also brought some unpleasantness to my family memories--Cat Ferry's aunt, Ann Hilgard, is a long-term sufferer of abuse, and her memories were not repressed at all. This person IS my mother's sister. As I read the description of her I went cold, my mouth was dry, and I had to put it down and talk to my wife about it to calm me down. I've looked into 2 or 3 case studies, and now I know that what I always thought was loopy or erratic behavior in her was most likely a symptom of something much, much worse. Nearly everyone on that side of the family is dead now, so I'm not going to shake any trees, but it has the potential to make me cancel or put one of my projects on hold: that is the story of one of my male relatives who once had a promising career in sports, and who spent his life thereafter working with children.

So I'm going to have to go get Iles' back catalogue now. This is the fourth of his that I've read, and like the other three it manages to thrill, instruct, hypnotize, and make me feel a profound catharsis.

I met Iles a few weeks ago at a signing in Austin. If he ever comes to your town, go see him. He doesn't read out loud, he just starts talking. He's honest, open, and cynical. Everything a writer needs to be, right? I spoke to him for about 5 minutes about "the writing life" and he was candid about his opinions--a) it was much easier to be a writer 15 years ago when he started (when he was exactly my age, we figured out), b) the printed book is a dinosaur that will die before he does, but that c) if you really do it well, you will make it.

What had me skipping on clouds was when he asked me what I'm working on. I told him briefly about the story, and his eyes lit up. He said, "man, that the kind of thing that sells. That sounds like Arturo Perez-Reverte or something."

It was small, but big things have small beginnings. I'm ecstatic.

Book #4 will be The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.




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