Bad Blood by E. O. Chirovici

The Blurb On The Back:

It’s a rainy night in New York, and psychologist James Cobb is giving a talk on the art of recovering lost memories via hypnosis. Afterwards, he’s approached by a stranger; a dying man who, forty years ago, wake up in a Paris hotel room with a murdered woman and no memory at all of what happened.

Now, he needs to know the truth.  Intrigued, James begins to unpick the tangled threads of this decades-old mystery.  But everyone involved has a different story to tell, and every fact he uncovers has another interpretation.  As his interest becomes an obsession, and secrets from his own past start to surface, he begins to suspect that someone has buried the truth deep enough to hide it forever.

BAD BLOOD tells a gripping story of memory, motives, and how little we really know about ourselves. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 11 months ago.  James Cobb is a successful psychologist living in working in New York and specialising in hypnosis and its use in recovering lost memories.  One night, after giving a talk he’s approached by Joshua Fleischer, a millionaire investment banker from a well-to-do family who’s now a philanthropist in the last stages of terminal leukaemia. Fleischer wants to hire James to help him to recover his memory of a very specific night in October 1976 when he woke up in a Parisian hotel room to find a murdered woman in the bathroom. Fleischer fled the scene and ever since has been wracked by guilt that he was responsible for the death – he wants James to help him discover the truth before he dies.

As James takes Josh back to 1976, he slowly uncovers the story of Josh and his college roommate Abe (an intelligent young man from a poor Louisianan background desperate to make his way in the world) and how Abe’s internship at a foundation in Paris brought the pair to Paris where they met Simone, the beloved daughter of a Resistance hero. But as James digs further into the story and starts to meet people who knew the pair, different perspectives emerge of the same facts and how far people will go to ignore the truth …

O. Chirovici’s literary psychological thriller is a smoothly written but thin affair that meditates on the nature of memory and the power of guilt but it’s hamstrung by a pompous main character whose reasons for investigating don’t quite ring true, a central friendship between two equally unpleasant men who I never connected with and an ending that feels like an unearned cheat and which left me unsatisfied.

A big reason for my dislike of the book is that I didn’t connect with James who comes across as a rather pompous and self-involved man who’s a successful psychologist and has written several books, which see him frequently invited to give talks and presentations on memory and hypnosis.  Chirovici’s writing of James is slick and as a result he comes across as rather superficial and I certainly never quite bought into his need to unravel what had happened to Josh.  Chirovici tries to counter this by giving him a backstory that’s caused his own feelings of guilt, following an affair with a patient – Julie – but even here, James’s concerns are about James rather than about the ramifications of that affair on Julie.  As a result, James never really rises about being a device that Chirovici uses to explore his main themes, which are the fallibility of memory, how memory can be influenced by guilt and how different people have different perspectives on the same events.

To be fair, Chirovici writes fluidly and intertwines his different storylines together in a smooth way – from Josh’s initial recollections to those uncovered by hypnosis and then weaving in events from witnesses and finally a diary before the culprit makes their own confession. Certainly the pace never flagged but I have to confess that my interest did – in part because some of the mysteries (e.g. the author of the diary) were easy to guess but also because as the story of Abe and Josh’s relationship is unpeeled, I was left finding both characters fundamentally unlikeable and while Chirovici seems to want the reader to feel greater pity for Abe, the fact that he leaves open whether some of his actions actually happened and what his motivation was for doing them, made it difficult for me to relate.  By far my biggest issue however was in the ending, where James – incredibly – makes a leap of logic that leaves him to uncover the truth which made me feel rather that the rug had been pulled under me in that there is literally no set-up for it until the culprit makes their confession.  I suspect that this was deliberately intended because it fits with the overall narrative themes of the fallibility of memory and how self-absorbed Abe and Josh were, but it felt undeserved and as a result, I felt a little cheated.

Ultimately, I can’t say that this is a bad book – it reads quickly and Chirovici writes in a sleek, economical prose style that kept me turning the pages – but it didn’t grab me either.  Given Chirovici’s previous success with THE BOOK OF MIRRORS, I’d be interested to check that out and see how it compares with this one.

BAD BLOOD was released in the United Kingdom on 12thJuly 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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