“Since your time with us, you’ve confessed to a lot of make-believe crimes that you remember doing,” Nurse Hamilton says.
“They seem so real to you,” Eric says.
“Two days ago we were in the garden and you told me a story,” Nurse Hamilton says, and she glances at the photo, and Jerry knows what she’s about to say—the same way he always used to be able to predict how TV shows and movies would end one quarter of the way through. Is that where they are now? One quarter of the way through his madness? And the Madness Journal? Just where in the hell is it?
“You told me about a girl you had killed. You said you knew her, but you didn’t say how. Do you remember this?”
He doesn’t remember that at all, and he tries to remember. Hard. He knows that’s a thing people probably tell him, to try and think harder or try and remember better, as if he can tighten his brain muscles and put in the extra effort. But it is what it is, and in this case what it is is a whole lot of nothing. “I remember the garden,” he says. “And… there was a rabbit. Wally.”
“You stabbed her,” Mayor says.
“Belinda Murray. You murdered her in cold blood.”
Jerry Grey—better known by his pseudonym Henry Cutter—is the best-selling forty-nine-year-old author of thirteen crime novels, and all told he’s having a pretty shit year. He’s been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, a detail he should’ve seen earlier, when his editor first noticed the decline in his work. But it’s going to be okay, because he’s got his loving wife Sandra and daughter Eva by his side, and they’re going to bump up the date on Eva’s wedding to ensure her father gets to walk her down the aisle.
Which would be great, if not for the fact that he’s actually fifty, alone, confined (mostly) to a nursing home, and struggling to remember what year it is. Or why a pair of detectives insist on questioning him about the death of a woman he can’t even remember—and why they don’t seem as interested in the woman he claims he did kill, many years before. Problem with that last part is that the woman he thinks he killed—Suzan with a z—was just a character in one of his early books. But Belinda Murray, she was real, and Jerry’s the prime suspect in her murder. The difficulty, though, rests not just in proving Jerry’s innocence, but doing so while he’s slipping between both time and realities.
Trust No One is Paul Cleave’s eighth crime thriller, and he’s certainly got the formula down to a science. The writing is tight and to the point, if not especially colourful. The mystery itself, with its odd twist and turn at the necessary intervals, is enjoyable right up until the end—save a bit of confusion between who was responsible for what, and some unfortunate predictability, followed by the requisite moustache twirling as the main bad guy proceeds at the climax to reveal his inner asshole like any good movie villain should.
What separates Trust No One from other thrillers, beyond it being set in idyllic Christchurch, New Zealand, is the structure derived from the novel’s central conceit. Due to the Alzheimer’s, Jerry keeps what he calls a “Madness Journal” to document the illness’s progress and how it affects both his life and his relationships with his wife and daughter. Cleave uses this to split his narrative in two—half the book takes place in the present, as Jerry slips more and more out of his reality while trying to figure out whether or not he’s actually a killer, while the other half takes place in the past, written on pages culled from the Madness Journal as Jerry reveals just what the disease is stealing from him. Later on, the Madness Journal becomes integral to the central mystery, and the two halves of the narrative sync up in a quite satisfying way.
There’s much more I could say about the narrative, but I’m hesitant to spoil too much, as naturally, the mystery is everything in this sort of book. And while I enjoyed the story, I do have some issues with it. First, the detectives. From the moment they appear their actions and mannerisms feel stereotypical, their prejudices well telegraphed. Both are content playing the bad cop, though to differing degrees. They hate that Jerry’s a crime writer, that he’s made his living off of the bile they fight day in and day out. While this makes sense, it’s handled in a very two-dimensional way, accentuated by the realization that they just don’t play all that important a role in the story—they’re there to antagonize Jerry, and to be there when he falters, but not to investigate things with any greater depth than that. And I found that lack of external possibility on their part to be rather frustrating.
Second, I was disappointed there wasn’t more done to blur the line between what was real and what was fiction within the scope of Jerry’s world. A couple of scenes from Jerry’s novels are touched upon and clearly filter into the larger narrative, but the narrative’s initial promise hinted at something greater—at a mind broken and unable to find its way out from the myriad worlds he himself created. For the most part, Jerry’s Alzheimer’s causes temporal confusion—he’s often not sure what day or month or even year it is, and as a result where Sandra or Eva are and why Eva won’t call him “Dad” anymore. But given his confusion regarding Suzan, the woman he was convinced he did murder, I expected the novel to go much further in that department, really blurring that line between realities. There was far more gold in those mines than what was brought to the surface…
Despite all this, I enjoyed my time with Trust No One. It doesn’t do anything especially new, and the split-narrative approach works to mask some of its more obvious shortcomings. However, what it does it does well enough, and I nevertheless remained engaged throughout. I suspect it would make a pretty excellent beach read, or something to chew through in short order while on a flight, but its depth is limited. Ironically, its characters feel a little too much like they’ve been cut from a thriller’s cloth, like individuals that could easily have come from any one of Jerry’s books—they just don’t stand well enough on their own.