Title: Trust No One by Paul Cleave
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
In the exciting new psychological thriller by the Edgar-nominated author of Joe Victim, a famous crime writer struggles to differentiate between his own reality and the frightening plot lines he’s created for the page.
Jerry Grey is known to most of the world by his crime writing pseudonym, Henry Cutter—a name that has been keeping readers at the edge of their seats for more than a decade. Recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of forty-nine, Jerry’s crime writing days are coming to an end. His twelve books tell stories of brutal murders committed by bad men, of a world out of balance, of victims finding the darkest forms of justice. As his dementia begins to break down the wall between his life and the lives of the characters he has created, Jerry confesses his worst secret: The stories are real. He knows this because he committed the crimes. Those close to him, including the nurses at the care home where he now lives, insist that it is all in his head, that his memory is being toyed with and manipulated by his unfortunate disease. But if that were true, then why are so many bad things happening? Why are people dying?
Hailed by critics as a “masterful” (Publishers Weekly) writer who consistently offers “ferocious storytelling that makes you think and feel” (The Listener) and whose fiction evokes “Breaking Bad reworked by the Coen Brothers” (Kirkus Reviews), Paul Cleave takes us down a cleverly twisted path to determine the fine line between an author and his characters, between fact and fiction.
Paul Cleave puts a very unique spin on the unreliable narrator plot device with his latest release, Trust No One. Lead protagonist Jerry Grey’s early onset Alzheimer’s causes him to confuse fact with fiction and it is impossible for anyone to trust his version of events. A crime writer of twelve completed novels, Jerry’s condition deteriorates rapidly and he begins confessing to several murders after he goes into a nursing home. Many of these murders are actually the plots of his novels so his confessions are initially discounted by the police. However, Jerry falls under suspicion after a string of homicides begin occurring on days he has wandered away from the nursing home. Has Jerry turned into a stone cold killer? Or are his ramblings a byproduct of his dementia?
Jerry’s world soon begins to crumble after his diagnosis and with his wife Sandra and daughter Eva by his side, they begin planning for the future. Eva’s wedding date is moved up so he can attend and she, along with Sandra, are soon immersed in planning the nuptials. Jerry is working hard to complete the requested edits on his final manuscript but he is having difficulty staying on task. His other mission is writing a journal that will hopefully jog his memory once dementia fully sets in, but these musings quickly turn into a complicated mix of reality and delusion as his condition worsens. With wedding details taking up much of Sandra’s time, Jerry becomes increasingly suspicious of her activities away from home and paranoia begins to set in. By the time Eva’s wedding day arrives, Jerry and his family are hoping he can make it through the ceremony without mishap but it soon becomes apparent that something horrible happened that day, but what? Why are Eva and Sandra now keeping their distance from Jerry?
From my personal experiences with a family member’s dementia, I can safely say that much of what occurs with Jerry is pretty accurate. The parts of the novel that deal with Jerry confusing fact with fiction, completely forgetting discussions and his inability to recognize friends and family are realistically depicted. Reality becomes interwoven with delusions and paranoia begins. There is also a huge degree of repetition since short term memory is often elusive while long term memories are often recalled without much effort. The disease takes an enormous toll on family and friends as they watch the person they love turn into a stranger. It is absolutely heartbreaking and this portion of the novel is incredibly well written.
Unfortunately, some of these aspects also make Trust No One slow paced and repetitious. Trying to decipher what is real and what is delusion is frustrating not just for Jerry, but also for the reader. Not knowing what is actually occurring in real life and what is a product of Jerry’s dementia becomes irritating since the entire novel is written from Jerry’s point of view. His journal entries are helpful in the beginning, but as he mentally declines, they are essentially useless. The storyline is quite suspenseful as Jerry undergoes his harrowing ordeal but the truth is not revealed until the final few chapters. Paul Cleave brings the novel to a spectacular and stunning conclusion that is satisfying but also heartrending.