Sunday, July 12, 2009

"The Memory Collector"

Meg Gardiner's Evan Delaney thrillers feature a smart-aleck freelance journalist, deal with religious extremism, a high school reunion killer, and sex, drugs, and rock’n'roll. Stephen King calls them “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years,” and China Lake won the Edgar award for Best Paperback Original of 2008.

Her Jo Beckett series, featuring a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist, debuted in 2008 with The Dirty Secrets Club. The novel was chosen one of the year’s top ten thrillers by, and won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of the year.

Gardiner applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Memory Collector, the second Jo Beckett novel, and reported the following:
In The Memory Collector, forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett hits the ground running. And she has to sprint to keep up, because she’s out of her professional comfort zone.

Normally Jo performs psychological autopsies for the San Francisco police, to determine whether a victim’s death was natural, accident, suicide, or murder. But in this book she has a live patient. Ian Kanan has arrived home from a trip to Africa suffering from anterograde amnesia. He cannot form new memories. Every few minutes he forgets where he is and what has just happened. Jo must find out what has caused his devastating condition.

When Kanan disappears from the hospital, Jo’s job becomes critical. Kanan is a former mercenary. He may be seeking revenge against those responsible for his amnesia. Worse, people who were on his flight into San Francisco begin to show the same symptoms. Jo must track Kanan down and find out what is destroying his short-term memory before disaster strikes.

The book runs at high speed. And page 69 finds Jo enjoying a rare chance to catch her breath. She’s committed to her job, a thorough professional, sharp and empathic. But she’s not obsessed. She has a life, and a sense of humor, and a new man.

Page 69 gives readers a sense of all that.

The day outside had turned from gloomy to Hell, yeah.

Her house peered out across rooftops from the top of the hill, past the slick green of the magnolia in her back yard, over Victorian apartment buildings and houses painted Matchbox car colors. Beyond a neighbor’s Monterey pine, past neighborhoods that rode the hills and valleys like homes on a rolling sea, past the dark forests of the Presidio, was the Golden Gate Bridge, pulsing red in the stormy afternoon light. She twisted her hair up into a swirl and captured it in a claw clip.

She was halfway down the stairs when the doorbell rang. Her heart gave a kick. Probably FedEx, or Wendell the mailman on an amphetamine bender, doing his rounds five times faster than his colleagues. And five times worse. Probably delivering the wrong mail to everybody on the hill again.

But if it wasn’t Wired Wendell, the possibilities distilled to
Oh, crap and Should have put on lipstick. Jo crossed the front hall and opened the door.

Gabriel Quintana stood on the porch. He was holding a sack of doughnuts and two cups of coffee large enough to power a top fuel dragster.

“Can I corrupt your day?” he said.

She smiled.

Taking the doughnuts, she let him in. “Bring me sugar, butter, and caffeine, and you can take my soul.” They walked down the hall to the kitchen. She looked in the sack. “Oh, yeah. What do you want me to do? Name it. Rob a bank? Toss one of those chocolate puppies on the counter and point me at a teller.”

“That’s not what I want.”

He set the coffee cups on the counter. He wrapped an arm around her waist, pulled her against him, and kissed her.

She didn’t need lipstick after all.

In the story, Jo barely gets any time alone with Gabe. By page 70, their moment is interrupted. Jo spends the rest of the novel trying, with comic frustration, to get her new boyfriend by himself.

It’s one of the things that I enjoyed most about writing the book.
Read an excerpt from The Memory Collector, and learn more about the book and author at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue