Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Harper Flynn works tending bar at a club while she’s getting her degree at UCLA. It’s a popular club, able to hold in excess of 1000 people. One night everything is normal until three gunman enter the club, gunning down Harper’s boyfriend Drew in front of her eyes. They set fire to the bar, throwing a Molotov cocktail that causes a stampede of confusion and chaos. Although Harper manages to escape when the floor collapses, Drew does not make it out alive.
L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison was also in the bar, keeping an eye on a well-known meth dealer. Although he managed to shoot and kill two of the gunman, the mysterious third one – the one that shot Drew in front of Harper – escaped. Aiden was also caught up when the floor collapsed and he suffered severe injuries. Ones that have basically ended his career.
Almost one year on and Harper spots the elusive third gunman, whom no one else believes exists, at a memorial for Drew. The only person she can go to with her fears is Aiden Garrison, now working on his brother’s fishing boat. Aiden suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell and has been diagnosed with Fregoli syndrome, a condition that causes confusion in facial recognition. Aiden can see a threat superimposed over a perfectly innocent face. It’s made it impossible for him to continue in his job – everyone sees him as a loose cannon but like Harper, he’s convinced of the existence of a third gunman. He saw him that night, before he suffered his injury and subsequent syndrome.
As Aiden and Harper dig into the case together, Harper realises it was far from coincidence that it happened at the bar she was working at. In fact, this could possibly be all about Harper….and her notorious past catching up with her. And her only ally is a man who sees danger everywhere he looks. Even in her.
I read thriller The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner last year so when I saw her latest book, I had to read it! She writes really tight and interesting stories with lots of twists and turns and hair-raising scenes. This one is a very ambitious kind of story and the inclusion of Aiden’s Fregoli delusion syndrome makes it even more so. Fregoli delusion is a real thing – you can read about it here but basically his brain can sometimes fail to correctly identify a person and assume it’s someone else. And that person that it shows him is a threat or someone dangerous, often someone that he believes may be in disguise as someone else to trick him. As a police officer, Aiden can no longer do his job as he sees threats everywhere, including in his own office. In Aiden’s case, he sees the mysterious third gunman. All the time.
Harper and Aiden both try to go to the police with their concerns. They try this a lot and it got a bit frustrating at times because the police don’t really want a bar of their story. They believe that the gunman was a figment of Aiden’s imagination, or that he confused events of the shooting with another case. They also have reason to be suspicious of Harper, who has a very interesting past that sheds a lot of light on the shooting and the fire at the bar. Harper and Aiden keep trying though and even though it keeps backfiring on them, they persist and persist until they finally manage to convince someone that they are telling the truth. And that there really is very elaborate and complex situation going on here. But ultimately, Harper and Aiden are mostly on their own.
I loved the way that Aiden’s situation complicated the story, not just with trying to get people listen and believe them but also in his relationship with Harper. He has to fight the urge to believe that she’s trying to trick him, that she’s not really who and what she says she is and that she’s in on it. There are times when he really struggles with this and agonises over her, the deeper into investigating they go. He also makes several mistakes along the way, seeing people on the street and believing they’re the third gunman and Harper gets to see first hand what it’s like for him. There’s no doubt that it’s confronting – Aiden is former military and a cop so obviously he has a lot of skills and there’s no denying that if he believes someone to be a threat, he can and will take them down. Meg Gardiner did an excellent job of portraying Aiden’s often confused state of mind as he swung back and forth between trusting Harper and questioning her motives. Harper had quite a colourful past so you could understand Aiden’s desperation in wanting to believe her but also having that little shimmer of doubt, enhanced by his injury and the syndrome he was suffering from. Likewise Harper had to be able to trust Aiden and also convince him that she was for real and not trying to deceive him. Given the way their relationship escalates throughout the course of the novel, it’s something that becomes more complicated with each piece of information they uncover.
Phantom Instinct is full of action and the last probably 80-100 pages are heart-stopping and filled with the sort of suspense that has you on the edge of your seat, frantically turning pages (or in my case, clicking ‘next page’ on my Kindle). Every time I thought I might almost be getting to the end, some new twist came along to complicate things even further! It was a very engaging read and I look forward to Meg Gardiner’s next novel and the inevitable heart attack it will bring.
Book #137 of 2014