Book Review: Trust No One by Paul Cleave

Trust No One – Paul Cleave (Upstart Press, 2015)

You may have noticed that I don’t read a lot of mysteries. The very simple reason behind that is that I find them too scary. Overactive imagination + gory tale is not a good combination for me in the middle of the night. However, when my sister-in-law was in New Zealand just before Christmas, she brought me back a selection of fiction and candy unique to NZ and this was one of them. (Books and candy – kind of the perfect gift, right?)

The premise of Trust No One is quite good I thought. Jerry Grey is a successful crime writer, known under the pseudonym of Henry Cutter. He’s made a good living as a writer, has a beautiful wife and an adult daughter. And he’s just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers.

The book moves through time quite smoothly, returning to Jerry’s early diagnosis and his quick spiral into dementia. This is balanced with scenes of him in the present, living in a nursing home where we know his wife never comes to see him and his daughter no longer refers to him as “dad”. Something has gone horribly wrong and it isn’t just the Alzheimers. Jerry, it turns out, has begun to confess to terrible murders, though many of them sound familiar to fans of Henry Cutter’s novels. And yet, there are some new bodies showing up and Jerry’s become quite good at escaping from the nursing home.

The sections of the novel set in the present were the most interesting. Here Jerry moves between almost total lucidity and a sort of dazed and confused fog. He usually knows who he is but not where he is or what has happened to him in the last year. These sections are interrupted with Jerry’s “Madness Journal”, a record he begins to keep when he is first diagnosed. These sections were largely annoying. First, they’re written in second person which is a ridiculous way to keep a journal and second, they are sometimes written from the perspective of Henry Cutter. And Henry Cutter is a bad writer. Since the entire novel is not poorly written, I have to assume this is a deliberate choice on Cleave’s part. But to what end, I’m not entirely sure. Is he trying to demonstrate that Jerry (and by extension Henry) is not actually a great writer? That his readers only enjoy the violence and fear of his stories? Is Jerry actually a good writer but his dementia has stolen this ability from him? As the story progresses, Henry Cutter becomes almost an alternate identity for Jerry, perhaps one that is taking over his real life and his mind. While an interesting premise, that isn’t quite how Alzheimers works and so clouds the plot as to what is really happening to Jerry.

The story is still entertaining and none of this made me want to give up on it. It’s suspenseful and intriguing enough that I made it through to the end quickly. It’s the ending that drove me crazy. So I’ll warn you that I’m about to give away a spoiler because I need to rant a little.

Spoiler ahead:

Turns out Jerry is being framed. Okay, fine, that makes sense. Where it gets ridiculous though is that Jerry is being framed by two separate and unrelated murderers. That’s right. Two people close enough to Jerry to use him in this way also want to rape and murder women (all of whom match the same generic description). While one of these characters is well established enough that this solution makes sense (and was something I was beginning to suspect), adding in the second murderer is completely ridiculous and discredits the whole plot.

Spoiler over.

So while I didn’t mind the story overall (especially when I skimmed over the parts with Jerry’s journal) the ending completely ruined it for me. There was a lot of potential here for a unique mystery and, in many ways, Cleave succeeds, but overall he hasn’t convinced me to start reading more mysteries.

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What I Read – May 2017

Silence – Shusaku Endo (Picador Classic, 2015)

translated from the Japanese by William Johnston

But Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt – this is the realization that came home to me acutely at that time.

(from Silence)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineGail Honeyman (Viking, 2017)

The Collected Stories – Grace Paley (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

They walked east and south to neighbourhoods where our city, in fields of garbage and broken brick, stands, desolate, her windows burnt and blind. Here, Faith said, the people suffer and struggle, their children turn round and round in one place, growing first in beauty, then in rage.

(from “The Expensive Moment” by Grace Paley

Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall (Anansi, 2009)

Spoonbenders – Daryl Gregory (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)

Trust No One – Paul Cleave (Upstart Press, 2015)

Everything was Good-Bye – Gurjinder Basran (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2010)

Harmless Like You – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Sceptre, 2016)

The Red Pony – John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics, 2009)

Currently Reading:

Green Mansions – W.H. Hudson

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – Sherman Alexie