For reasons that escape me, Paul Cleave doesn't seem to have the profile, or the world-wide awareness that he absolutely and utterly deserves. He's one of those authors that consistently turns out something different, something that is designed to challenge the reader, and always something that's absolutely impossible to put down.
With TRUST NO ONE he's come up with an absolutely stunning plot: an author of crime fiction, with early onset Alzheimer's who has now been moved to a nursing home, somehow connected to an ongoing series of murders. As the blurb puts it:
"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."
The problem with his confession is his Alzheimer's diagnosis. His life is now completely muddled between the fictional and the real, between the unexplained deaths of people, and his increasing confusion over reality and fantasy. He can't understand why it is that nobody believes his fictional stories are real, that he's a killer and why it is that those close to him seem to refuse to acknowledge this.
The concept of an unreliable narrator is nothing new in crime fiction, but in TRUST NO ONE, the complication is that Jerry doesn't even know if he's unreliable. Jerry also doesn't trust anyone around him, including his own daughter or the nurses who care for him. As convinced as he is of his own guilt, he doesn't even really trust himself. Of course, everyone knows that the outcomes of Alzheimer's are difficult to understand or predict. Sufferers can forget the last few moments, but remember their childhoods as clear as if a movie playing before them. Even people not suffering from this disease can find themselves in a less permanent version of that situation. On the other hand there are those memories that we all swear we have, that logically we can't have experienced. A favourite relative who died before we were old enough to have known them, an event we feel we've experienced, when we've only had it described to us. Memory plays tricks on everyone, and Alzheimer's wrecks that most fundamental of human abilities in ways that you can't always predict. So is Jerry remembering himself committing crimes, or is his mind playing tricks on him. Is somebody else involved?
This sort of scenario plays with a reader's perceptions and conclusions. It's a minefield of assumptions and assertions that are tipped on their heads as quickly as they are made. It's cleverly done. The pace is fast enough to keep you off kilter, slow enough to give you a feeling of connection with a character who has not got a lot of connection to his own world. In consequence the reader is also slightly uncomfortable - are you feeling this connection with a murderer? Is that man a murderer in full possession of his faculties?
Ever since the first book I've been a huge fan of Paul Cleave's work. Some of his books have frightened me so much lights have been left on in the house all night. Some of them have troubled and confused me. Always they have engaged. Always they have entertained, and always they have made me think. Not just about why it is that this incredibly talented author isn't always sitting at the top of the bestseller lists.