Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 October 2019 from Thomas & Mercer
Quiet towns keep big secrets.
Private investigator Jessica Shaw is leading a quiet life in a Californian desert community, where she spends her days working low-level cases. But when a former resident asks Jessica to help her sister, Rue Hunter—a convicted murderer whose execution is days away—Jessica can’t resist the offer.
Rue doesn’t remember what happened the night two high school students were killed thirty years ago, but everybody in town is certain she’s guilty. As Jessica looks for answers, she finds that local rumors point one way and evidence points another. And nobody wants to face the truth. Meanwhile, Jessica can’t shake the feeling that someone is stalking her—now more than ever, she knows she can’t trust anyone.
As Jessica digs deeper, she encounters local secrets in unlikely places—including the police department itself. But the clock is ticking, and Jessica must find the truth fast—or Rue’s bad memory may be the death of them both.
I was a big fan of Thin Air, the first Jessica Shaw book and so jumped at the chance to review the second in the series. Easily read as a stand-alone, I really loved the follow up, Bad Memory.
Jessica is drifting as she moves around California, stopping in the desert community of Hundred Acres to work for a while in a PI’s office in order to secure her California Investigator’s licence. She has hooked up with the local diner owner and son of the local Sheriff, Dylan, which at least ensures she isn’t overpaying for her burgers.
Most of her work is domestic, as befits a small town, but then one day she is hired by Rose, the sister of a woman who used to live in the town; a woman whose execution is scheduled in 10 days time. California has not executed a prisoner since 2006, and no woman has been executed since 1964, so Rue Hunter is making the news for all the wrong reasons.
Rue Hunter confessed to murdering her two best friends Megan and Lucas some 30 years ago at Devil’s Point, a local spot used by teens to make out. Rue and Lucas had been dating and the town is convinced that Rue killed the teens in a fit of jealousy. But Rue has never been able to remember what happened; she only knows that she was found covered in blood and clutching the murder weapon.
Now there is one last chance to find the truth and it’s up to Jessica to do the digging.
Told in two timelines and from different P.O.V.’s Bad Memory is a quick read as Gray’s short chapters and fast pace keep the rhythm going, switching between current events and flashbacks to 1987 with an easy flow.
There are two investigations here running in parallel. One is Jessica’s digging into the murders; the second is that of the murder of Det. Holten, former partner of her cop friend, Det. Pryce, also a cold case that has never been satisfactorily resolved.
The small town backdrop works well and the rumours and theories that abound are all grist to the mill that condemned Rue Hunter even before her trial. Rue and Rose had not come from the best of homes and everyone knew that Rue just had to take after her mother, about whom no-one has a good word to say.
As Jessica looks into the case, she begins to find disturbing things that should have come into light but never have. Has someone been suppressing evidence that doesn’t fit?
Gray creates a strong and convincing atmosphere and her protagonist Jessica shows yet again that she is no-one’s patsy and will get to the truth whatever the personal cost. The trail that the clues lead to do offer the reader a good chance of working out the solution, though the twisty narrative works hard to prevent that, and so this doesn’t detract from the pleasure of reading this highly entertaining work of detective fiction.
Verdict: Bad Memory is a fantastic and enjoyable read. Gray brings the intrigue and drama around a crime investigation alive. Her depiction of scandal and secrets in small-town community life adds to the thrilling action and suspense in this investigation. I like protagonist P.I. Jessica Shaw more with every book and am already looking forward to Book Three!
Lisa Gray has been writing professionally for years, serving as the chief Scottish soccer writer at the Press Association and the books editor at the Daily Record Saturday Magazine. Lisa recently left her journalism job as a reporter for The Daily Record and Sunday Mail to concentrate on full time writing. Learn more at www.lisagraywriter.com