Monday, February 15, 2016

Review: What Remains of Me

Summary: The USA Today bestselling author of the Brenna Spector series returns with her most ambitious book to date, a spellbinding novel of psychological suspense, set in the glamorous, wealthy world of Hollywood—a darkly imaginative and atmospheric tale of revenge and betrayal, presumed guilt and innocence lost, dirty secrets and family ties reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman, Gillian Flynn, and Harlan Coben.

Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s got a drawer somewhere with something hidden in it.

On June 28, 1980—the hottest night of the year—Kelly Michelle Lund shoots and kills Oscar-nominated director John McFadden at a party in his home. . . . And instantly becomes a media sensation, her chilling smile fodder for national nightmares. For years, speculation swirls over the enigmatic seventeen-year-old’s motives, information she’s refused to share. Convicted of the murder, she loses her youth and her freedom—but keeps her secrets to herself.

Thirty years later—and five years after her release from prison—the past has come back to haunt Kelly. Her father-in-law, movie legend Sterling Marshall, is found in a pool of blood in his home in the Hollywood Hills—dead from a shot to the head, just like his old friend John McFadden.

Once again, Kelly is suspected of the high profile murder. But this time, she’s got some unexpected allies who believe she’s innocent—of both killings—and want to help her clear her name. But is she?

Written with masterful precision and control, What Remains of Me brilliantly moves forward and back in time, playing out the murders side by side—interweaving subtle connections and peeling away layers of events to reveal the shocking truth. -- William Morrow

My book club's February choice was WHAT REMAINS OF ME by Alison Gaylin. I briefly mentioned last week that my book club was pretty much in agreement that it wasn't our favorite selection. Personally, I was worried when we picked it that there wouldn't be too much to discuss because it's a mystery/thriller. However, we did manage to find quite a few things to talk about especially as they related to the plot and the writing style.

WHAT REMAINS OF ME tells the story of Kelly Lund, a woman who was released from prison five years ago for the murder of famous Hollywood director. She was only 17 years old at the time of the crime, and you can probably imagine the spectacle that the surrounded the trial. She served twenty five years before she was released, and she never discussed the murder or her motives with anyone.

When her father-in-law, movie star Sterling Marshall, is found dead, Kelly finds herself in trouble once again; and it's no surprise that she's the chief suspect. While there are a few individuals who believe in Kelly's innocence, it's definitely not clear to the reader whether she just might be guilty of the crimes.

As the secrets from the past and present are gradually revealed, there are quite a few twists and turns... and even a few big surprises. However, the author does wrap up the questions for the reader a little too neatly.

I really wanted to enjoy WHAT REMAINS OF ME. I love mysteries and thrillers and the description of this novel sounded fantastic. Plus Ms. Gaylin is a best-selling and award-wining author. Unfortunately, this book never really grabbed me like I had hoped. I think one of my major issues with this novel was the character of Kelly. I didn't like her at all and felt absolutely no sympathy with her. While I questioned her guilt in these two crimes, I never really cared if she was innocent or not. Furthermore, I didn't find any of the characters to be really likable. Had I felt more of an affinity with Kelly (or really any character), I think it might have added to my enjoyment of the novel.

Another issue I had with this novel was the pacing. I just felt the book was about 50 - 75 pages too long, and it would have been tighter had some of the scenes been removed or even shortened. Normally I like novels that go back and forth between the present and the past; however, there were a few times when I thought it was a little confusing. Having said that, I did appreciate how the author used this device to gradually reveal both of the murders as well as how they were linked.

Finally, I was a little disappointed when I finished the book because things were wrapped up a little too neatly. Granted, the ride to the truth resembled a roller coaster in the dark with the ups and downs, hidden curves, and upside down loops; and the eventual reveal definitely resembled being smacked in the face with the bright light at the end of that last tunnel. All of that was pretty good, but... I didn't really appreciate how every character, even the minor ones, seemed to play a role in both the present and the past. I don't want to give too much away, but incest was a theme of the novel; and the entire book, from the plot to the characters' relationships, just seemed to be a little too incestuous. Everyone mentioned in the book, even those from her high school years, seemed to be involved in Kelly's present life. I was okay with one surprise twist from the past, but the second one was a little too much for me to buy.

Overall, WHAT REMAINS OF ME was a decent thriller and it's sure to appeal to many fans of crime fiction. Unfortunately, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I'm not sure it would be necessary to like the main character but you would need to care about what happened to her. Slow pacing drives me insane these days - I have little patience for it.

Kelly-Belly said...

That is how I felt about Girl on the Train...there was no one to really root for.