Sunday, 4 October 2015

Little Girl Gone - Alexandra Burt

About the book...
The stunning debut from Alexandra Burt has already created a buzz at London Book Fair and is expected to be the next killer thriller to hit the bestseller charts. Little Girl Gone has been hailed as “impossible to put down” by Edgar Award winning author, Meg Gardiner and is a thrilling, nail-shredding page-turner that fans of ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ won’t be able to put down.

A baby goes missing. But does her mother want her back?

When Estelle Paradise’s baby daughter is taken from her crib, she doesn’t report her missing. A week later, Estelle is found in a wrecked car miles from home, with a gunshot wound to the head and no memory. The only thing she can remember is the blood…so much blood.

She knows she holds the key to what happened that night – but what she doesn’t know is whether she was responsible.

Extract from the book...
We’re not sure of any brain damage at this point, but now that you’ve regained consciousness we’ll be able to perform all the necessary tests to figure out what’s going on.’ He motions the nurse who has been standing next to him. ‘You lost a lot of blood and we had to administer fluids to stabilize you. The swelling will go down in a few days but in the meantime we need to make sure you keep your lungs clear of fluids.’ 
He picks up a contraption and holds it up in front of me. ‘This is a spirometer. Basically you keep the red ball suspended as long as you can. The nurse will give you detailed instructions. Every two hours, please.’ His last comment is directed towards the nurse. 
The gurgling in my chest is uncomfortable and I try not to cough. The pain in my left side must be the fractured ribs. I wonder how I’ll be able to stay awake for two hours or wake up every two hours or use this contraption for two hours, or whatever he just said. 
‘Before I forget,’ Dr Baker looks down at me. He is quiet for a while and I wonder if I missed a question. Then he lowers his voice. ‘Two detectives were here to talk to you. I won’t allow any questioning until we’ve done a few more tests.’ He nods to the nurse and walks towards the door, then turns around and offers one more trifle of news. ‘Your husband will be here soon. In the meantime can we call anyone for you? Family? A friend? Anybody?’ 
I shake my head ‘no’ and immediately regret it. A mallet pounds against my skull from the inside. My head is a giant swollen bulb and the throbbing in my ear manages to distract me from my aching ribs.
My lids have a life of their own. I’m nodding off but I have so many questions. I take a deep breath as if I’m preparing to jump off a diving board. It takes everything I have to sound out the words.
‘Where did this accident happen?’
Why does he look at me puzzled? Am I missing more than I’m aware of?
‘I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you much about the accident,’ he says. He sounds subdued, as if he’s forcing himself to be composed in order to calm me. ‘All we know is that your car was found upstate at the bottom of a ravine.’ Pause. ‘You have a lot of injuries. Some are from the accident. Can you remember what happened?’ 
I reflect on his words, really think them over. Accident. Nothing. Not a thing. There’s a large black hole where my memory used to be.
‘I can’t remember anything,’ I say.
His brows furrow. ‘You mean . . . the accident?’
The accident. He talks about the accident as if I remember. I want to tell him to X-ray my head, and that he’ll find a dark shadow within my skull where my memory used to be.
I’m getting the hang of this; concentrate, think of the question and repeat it in your head, take a deep breath, then speak.
‘You don’t understand. I don’t remember the accident and I don’t remember anything before the accident.’
‘Do you remember wanting to harm yourself?’
‘Harm myself?’
I would remember that, wouldn’t I? What is he talking about? I’m getting frustrated. We’re going in circles. It’s difficult to stay awake.

About the author...
Alexandra was born in Germany. After her college graduation she moved to Texas and, while pursuing literary translations, she decided to tell her own stories. After three years of writing classes her short fiction appeared in the Freedom Fiction Journal, All Things Girl, MUSED Literary Review, and Heater Crime Fiction Magazine.

She is a member of Sisters In Crime, an organization promoting the advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.

She lives in Texas with her husband, her daughter, and two Labradors.

My thoughts...
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review by Avon Books, the publisher as part of a blog tour, something which I am more than happy to do.

The first I heard of this book is when an mp3 player arrived through the post.  It was loaded with an audio clip of a baby in distress, crying its lungs out - I immediately knew that this book was going to be big - Avon have the best marketing campaigns for their big books, in particular their crime/psychological thrillers - I haven't found one yet that I haven't loved.  

Almost on the back of the first parcel was the book, wrapped in a baby's blanket - how significant that clue was I wouldn't know until I had read the book and sat back just thinking about it, digesting the story - this is not a book that you can close the cover on and move straight onto your next.  Time is needed to digest and absorb what you've just read, time to adjust, regulate the breathing before slowly move on.

The synopsis for this book had me confused.  How could a baby be taken from it's cot and the mother not go into immediate and complete panic, shouting and banging down the doors of the police station demanding immediate help?  It seemed incomprehensible to me but the author takes us on a disturbing journey with Estelle the mother of the missing baby and with each page turned I panicked just a little bit more.  Worry for the baby, the mother and the relationship with her husband - nothing appears normal.  The story is told through the eyes and mind of the mother who is locked in an amnesia stronghold after being involved in a terrible accident.

It's clear very early on in the book that there was was more to the story than met the eye - a husband that was cold and clinical and quite frankly un-caring and a team of police officers parked outside her hospital door ready to interview her when given the go ahead by her doctor.

Estelle doesn't know her daughter is missing, doesn't remember anything leading up to the accident and on the insistence of her husband ends up agreeing to admittance to a psychiatric hospital - it's here that through counselling she gets the tools to allow her to un-lock the secrets she holds in the darkest corner of her memory.

She turns out to be a woman suffering from the deepest, darkest kind of post natal depression - her memory has shut out reality until neither she nor I as a reader knew whether her thoughts and feelings were real or imagined, add that to the amnesia and this seemed like a hopeless case - there really could only be one outcome - she was guilty and this would also explain Jack her husbands lack of care - I really didn't like him at all.  This was an emotional read, that was both difficult and compelling to keep reading.

Each session with her Dr Ari, her therapist was both a torture and a torment - it was like the truth was just out of grasp - she desperately wanted to know the truth but only she knew the truth.  He aided her to unlock her memories, to remember snippets, by asking questions and giving her coping mechanisms, things to calm her mind and thoughts.  

I devoured this book almost in one sitting, desperately wanting to get to the bottom of the story - there was so many twists and turns it was difficult to understand her thought processes and behaviour at times - simple things were twisted and appeared totally different when saw through another persons eyes.  You'd have thought it was me guilty, the way my heart pounded and palms sweated time and again I said to myself that's weird, that's odd, that's not how I read it.  Really?  Why? OMG she's guilty! No she's not, yes she is! My thought processes were all over the place - with each memory she remembered the horror grew.

Through flashbacks and snatches of memory recovered Estelle not only reveals things about the present living nightmare but also about her relationships.  Relationships with her parents, brother and aunt as she grew up, then latterly with her husband.  As is often the case things that happen in childhood shape the adults we become. Both she and Jack have baggage and when the chips are down it turns out to be too heavy to carry - turning away from each other instead of uniting and battling together.

I highly recommend this book, the subject matter might be difficult, particularly for parents but it'll make you think, it'll make your pulse race and your heart pound whilst all the time silently praying.  It has surprising, sometimes horrific twists and turns that make for difficult reading, especially whilst holding my breath but Alexandra Burt is an author I'll be looking out for in the future.