Before You Leap, by Keith Houghton
I enjoyed Gone Girl but like many a successful book before it the success of the book has introduced a lot of crap into the book market. I, for one, will be very happy when we emerge out of the era of the unreliable narrator, and especially books that abuse the reader like this book does.
The book opens with a scene in which the narrator/main character is on a bridge at a police road block. There’s a hostage in the car and the person with the narrator seems to have a crazy plan. The rest of the book tries to explain this situation.
Greg Cole lives in Florida having left the Michigan upper peninsula following the murder of his twin sister Scarlett. He’s become a psychologist and lives with his long-time friend Eve in a platonic house-sharing arrangement. Life is reasonably stable and good until a private detective shows up to let him know that the man convicted of killing his sister has been released from prison because he’s been able to establish an alibi that was never introduced in court. A detective from Michigan arrives shortly after to give Cole the same news along with hints that he may be a suspect in his sister’s murder now that they have learned that the wrong person was convicted.
As the story progresses Cole has to confront the convict who may have revenge on his mind, gets involved with a person from his childhood who has had his own share of run-ins with the law, and is framed for a second murder.
The book moves along well and there are good action sequences. Houghton can be an insightful writer. The problem comes near the end when Houghton begins dropping some odd hints along the path that led me to start questioning the reality of some of the events. Sure enough there’s a sudden twist in the plot. Then it’s not really a twist and we’re back to normal, then another twist. All of this happens near the end of the book, making it less like Gone Girl and more like The Sixth Sense. Gillian Flynn played reasonably fair in Gone Girl giving us a frightening portrait of a marriage and then, around halfway through, turning everything upside down. But once the secret of the book is revealed she sticks with it for the rest of the book. Houghton pushes things way too far with hints about his patients and drugs that his sister took, then just kicks over the board at the end. What could have been a noire John Dies at the End becomes simply weird.