Each day, when he awakes, Doctor Chris Barnes’ memory of everything recent, other than a vague image of a plate of shellfish and a beautiful naked woman who isn’t his wife, is gone. Attached to his alarm clock is a note telling him to read yet another note on the bathroom mirror. Before he gets to the bathroom, though, he notices that his wife is not in bed with him and he feels more than remembers that something is wrong. Did something happen to his wife? Has he had an affair? Where is their dog, Rex? Why is his memory so foggy? The note on the mirror tells him that he has lost his ability to create new memories as a result of a rare toxic outbreak to which he was exposed after eating tainted shellfish, his wife, along with the dog, has been murdered, and, after summarizing everything that has happened between his falling ill and that morning, reminds him that his first priority is to find her killer.
Author Glen Apseloff creates a relatively entertaining book that makes Doctor Barnes’ affliction feel real, at least on an intellectual level, albeit less so emotionally. We understand more than feel his frustration in seeing people he saw just the day before as if for the very first time and knowing that they remember the encounter as if it were just yesterday—because it was—but he not only doesn’t recall the event, but may not even remember the person. Barnes uses constant note-taking and a tiny recorder (that becomes quite significant at the end) to become his surrogate memory as he goes through all the possible suspects. The most disconcerting possibility is that Barnes himself is the murderer and simply doesn’t remember.
There is relatively little by way of subplot or secondary character development in this story and most of the characters are pretty flat. We know almost nothing of anyone else’s personal life beyond what we learn through Barnes’ interactions and notes. That might be because of the fact that, for the most part, the story is Barnes’ and he mostly remembers people and situations through notes as opposed to actual memories. The two exceptions are Boston police detective Wright and fellow surgeon Nate Billings. But it’s kind of a cheat because Apseloff only develops Billings since he’s sympathetic to Barnes’ plight because of his own lifelong stuttering problem and Wright’s wife, who is disabled too and tries to help her husband understand why it’s important to Barnes to solve his wife’s murder. Those characters are fine, but it felt like other people who don’t directly illustrate the central plot device could be made a bit rounder.
I enjoyed the book, though the ending feels really rushed. There are definitely sufficient red herrings thrown out, with at least four viable suspects right up until the murderer is revealed. As I said, though, the ending comes and goes really quickly. The tension about who killed Barnes’ wife Elizabeth and whether he or she will get away with it feels like it lasts fewer than ten pages. We don’t know whodunit, then we do, then the arrest is made, all with next to no suspense. I kept waiting for the tension to ramp up, but it just never did. The book was less emotionally gripping than intellectually interesting. It almost bordered on clinical, which is, again, appropriate on one level in that most of the story is told from the point of view of Barnes, a brilliant surgeon with a naturally analytical mind. But I get the impression this is more an issue of the author, who is an MD who specializes in drugs and toxins, writing a book that’s long on science and a little short on emotional engagement.
So, to sum up, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. If you are into the scientific aspects of a murder mystery, you may enjoy it more than I did.