Imagine being in pain every moment of your life. Not a headache. Nerve-shredding pain that fights through even the strongest painkillers. Pain that makes some days impossible and even the best days a struggle. Neurological pain for which there is no cure. Welcome to the life of Monica Wood.
Monica’s struggles are more than just her life of pain though. Her memories are a constant miasma of dreams, nightmares and the truth, with certain periods of her life – the accident that caused her condition for example – a complete blank. But she is growing more and more concerned about her past? Can she trust her husband? Can she trust herself? And why is there a suicide note in her belongings – written in handwriting that she is no longer capable of…
Right – that’s all I’m telling you about the plot. If you want more, there should be plenty of other reviews of Painkiller out there soon, but the less you know the better. So what can I talk about?
First off, by being vague about the plot, readers may think that this resembles Before I Go To Sleep – dodgy memory and suspicious husband. But that’s like saying Death On The Nile resembles The Pleasure Cruise Mystery. They both have a death on a boat, they have some good bits in the plot but in terms of overall quality… there’s no competition. This one wins hands down.
N J (Nev) Fountain has written mysteries before – you may have read my many posts singing the praises of the Mervyn Stone mysteries, one of the inspirations for the blog in fact – but this is a different kettle of fish. It’s a twist-laden thriller, but not one of those laden with a single twist at the end of the tale. The plot, told through Monica’s narration and some additional sections detailing the actions of a few other important characters, drip feeds information which constantly makes you realise that you’ve been thinking about things the wrong way – or have you? – and, with the skilled hand of a mystery writer, makes sure that every little bit of odd information means something, and, usually, means something that you don’t expect it to. And the ending? Well, it’s worthy of the rest of the book. That’s all I’ll say about it.
But there’s so much more to this than the plot. The humanity of the characters shines through with their motivations coming from the heart. As someone in a relationship, I found myself constantly putting myself in Monica’s husband’s shoes – what would I do if the person that I loved was constantly suffering? Would I do what he did/does/might have done/didn’t do? I don’t know. But a day later, I’m still thinking about it.
Monica herself is a wonderful character, based in part on a real person, as per the acknowledgements. Her battles with her “Angry Friend”, her struggle to live something resembling a normal life are side by side with her attempts to find the truth about both the past and the present blanks in her life are riveting and these two aspects of the tale never threaten to unbalance each other. While the opening sections are light on the mystery, this means that the reader is in the same situation as Monica herself – not quite sure if something is wrong or if it’s all in her head. It effectively pulls the reader into the book, and as with all of the best books that I’ve read, I found myself desperately wanting to read more to find out what happened next but simultaneously not wanting to read it too quickly as once it’s over… But as I said, it’s not over as I’m still finding myself thinking about it. I hope I never find myself in either Monica or her husband’s situation and my heart goes out to all those people out there who are.
How best to sum up how I enjoyed this book? Put it this way – regular readers know how much I love the Mervyn Stone books. I enjoyed Painkiller even more. It’s the best mystery-thriller that I’ve read in ages and obviously comes Highly Recommended.
Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown for the review copy. Painkiller is released this Thursday, 18th February.