Monday, June 17, 2019

Review of The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (2017, Faber and Faber)

Sheriff Calvin Cooper overseas the tiny population of Caesura, West Texas, located in the third least populous county in the United States. The residents all chose to live there, not sure whether they are criminals or witnesses in need of protection, but knowing that their key memories have been wiped as a part of new experimental programme. Afraid of the consequences, rarely does anybody leave what they call ‘The Blinds’. Supplies arrive once a week and occasionally a new resident shows up, picking a new name based on those of movie stars and vice-presidents. After eight years of relative mundanity there’s been a suicide and a murder in quick succession attracting the attention of outside federal agents. The residents are nervous, the deputy sheriff smells a conspiracy, and Cooper wants to use the fear to get Fran Adams, the only resident with a child, to leave. The uneasy peace starts to unravel as the truth of The Blinds starts to be revealed and it appears that nobody is as innocent as believed. And with a town full of criminals who fear the truth more than death, and outside interests interfering, Cooper is going to struggle to maintain order.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to find crime novels with a fresh take on the genre with most fitting into classic moulds and are derivative in storyline and twists. The Blinds, however, does manage to create a new angle blending together aspects of a Western with a SF memory loss tale. Caesura, West Texas, is a dusty, isolated town of second chances. All of its residents except for an eight year old boy and the three-person police team are either criminals or key witness who’ve had their memories altered so they cannot remember what led to them being there. What keeps them in place is a fear of what will happen if they leave, but a suicide and a murder have them worried about danger closer to home. Sheriff Calvin Cooper is charged with keeping the peace, but the two deaths have attracted outside attention, which along with the arrival of four new residents threatens to destabilise the community and reveal truths that nobody wants to rediscover. Sternbergh uses this premise to spin-out a compelling yarn in which the past gradually intrudes on the present leading to betrayal, violence, redemption, and desperate fight to survive. The story immediately grabs the reader’s attention and maintains its tight hold until the final page. The plot is very nicely constructed with plenty of intrigue and tension, the characterization is excellent, and there’s a strong sense of place and context. A wonderful, engaging, fresh tale of corrupted justice. 

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