JENNY SILER – “FLASHBACK”

Flashback by Jenny Siler 
Reviewed by Steve Rudd

 

“The past is a puzzle for everyone, a tattered collection of memory and desire. Even those people we most long to understand remain no more than a sum of those static moments we’ve chosen to hold them in”. This is a must-read novel for any discerning fan of high-octane, Steve Hamilton-esque thrillers, as the drama-drenched action flits the length and breadth of the heart of Europe between a spine-chilling chain of events in Morocco.
This is Jenny’s fourth novel, and it’s the first that she’s set outside of America where she lives.
Jenny has travelled the world extensively over the years, and such a fact is blatantly obvious as she wields an intoxicating ability to bring the places that her characters find themselves in to life in a most brilliant manner.
Like the title suggests, the story follows a young woman suffering from amnesia, living in a convent in France. She can’t remember anything of her past before the convent. When there is a massacre there, however, it becomes clear that her past is returning more than to haunt her but to outright terrorise her.The only clue to her past that she has is a ferry ticket stub, which leads her from France, through Spain, over into Africa. Once there, she meets a mysterious man called Brian who she would like to trust but fears that she can’t. She convinces herself that she knows him from the past as she travels from Tangier to Marrakech in search of answers.
It seems that wherever Jenny Siler sets her action, the net result is that it’s thoroughly convincing. She lives in the city of Missoula in Montana, and this is the area in which she set her previous masterpiece of a novel, Iced.
Even when she’s writing about places much further away from home as here in Flashback, the places are described so vividly that Jenny has either been to all the places that feature in Flashback and thus knows them intimately, or she has undertaken a considerable amount of painstaking research into such locations. The tense action scenes are always interspersed by compelling swathes of drama that help the reader to understand just how lost and alone the central character feels. She doesn’t even know her real name (and goes by the name of Eve), but over time she comes to learn that whoever is after her somehow once had ties with her mother.
“What is the first thing you remember? The taste of the ocean, the cold shock of snow, or the face of your mother, young as she was and is no more? The first memory I have is of the hour I came into this world. Before that, there are just the ghosts of what I’ve forgotten”.
Some of the punishing action scenes are as hard-hitting as any man could ever conceive, proving for once and for all that women can embrace violence just as readily as the macho male of the species – as and when necessary. The author in Meg Gardiner, likewise, writes with similar verve.Returning to the exhilarating plot of Flashback, Eve gets out of Africa as soon as she can, managing to secure an expensive ride on an illegal boat bound for the shores of Spain. The mysterious Brian just happens to be on the boat too, whom she comes to trust in due course, before they both get a car and put the pedal to the metal in the direction of Paris, where she is due to meet somebody who might be able to give her further answers about her predicament.
“To live with amnesia is to live with a suspect mind, a renegade piece of yourself that cannot be contained. Dreams may be memories, memories may be dreams, and neither one is to be trusted”. In true Bourne-affiliated tradition, the action then swerves quick-sharp to Eastern Europe as Eve and Brian race through Germany and Austria before reaching Slovakia and its Danube-sandwiching capital of Bratislava. The way that Jenny describes this place is almost whimsical, and she could clearly secure herself a job working for the Slovakian tourist board – if so wished – for one scene-setting paragraph alone:
It had snowed heavily overnight, and from the top of Slavin Hill the Old City looked quaint as a miniature Christmas village, its baroque spires and Gothic rooftops cloaked in cottony white. The sun was shining, the sky crisp and blue, the golden crown atop the steeple of St. Martin’s cathedral glistening in the morning light. Jenny is such an accomplished writer that come the exhilarating end of her top-class novels, all of the loose ends are tied up. The endings aren’t always happy ones, but at least there is a hugely satisfying sense of closure. If anything, the end to Flashback is a tear-jerking heart-breaker, a truth driven home by the very last line of a genuinely fantastic story.
For more information on this or any of Jenny’s previous books, visit www.jennysiler.com
(First published in 2004 by Orion)
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