BLURB: Sarah is in a coma.
Her memory is gone – she doesn’t know how she got there. And she doesn’t know how she might get out.
But then she discovers that her injury wasn’t an accident. And that the assailant hasn’t been caught.
Unable to speak, see or move, Sarah must use every clue that she overhears to piece together her own past.
And work out who it is that keeps coming into her room.
A novel that grips from the very beginning and that will live long in the memory, The Last Thing I Remember is Deborah Bee‘s startling debut thriller.
Another release from Bonnier Publishing’s excellent Twenty7 imprint for debut authors – and this one’s every bit as good as it’s predecessors – well, the ones I’ve read, anyway.
The chapters move between two characters’ perspectives. Firstly, Sarah (a 28-year-old who works in publishing) who’s been the victim of an attack or mugging while out with her husband Adam, who didn’t survive the brutal beating. Sarah’s someone who, at the beginning of the book, has got “locked-in syndrome” – she can see, hear, and feel everything around her, but can’t communicate. No-one knows if she is able to see and hear things, or whether she is brain-dead. Her memory is, initially, non-existent – she doesn’t even know her own name. We get to hear everything Sarah hears – what the nurses, police, her parents and sister say, plus a mysterious late night visitor who says to a nurse he’s Sarah’s brother. When her family reveal she doesn’t have a brother, he says the nurse must have misunderstood – he’s her brother-in-law, Ash, the late Adam’s brother. He only visits late at night, when no-one else is around and the nurses don’t see him entering her room, and is threatening to Sarah, frightening her, knowing she has no way of telling anyone.
The second perspective is that of Kelly, a 14-year-old who lives next door to Sarah with her mother and young brother. Sarah and Kelly had become close friends, after Kelly confides in Sarah about the horrendous bullying that goes on unchecked in her school. Sarah advises her not to stand out, so the bleached hair and short skirts go, so that Kelly can blend into the background. Sarah knows what it’s like to stand out and be picked on for it – she’s stunningly attractive, although that’s something the hospital staff and police don’t see, as she’s heavily bandaged and her face is swollen and multi-coloured with bruising from the attack. Before the attack, Sarah and Kelly had also attended self-esteem classes at the local community centre together – ostensibly for Kelly’s benefit, with Sarah there as company, but Sarah could do with them too – she’s in an abusive relationship with Adam. Kelly knows this, as she’s overheard Adam shouting vile abuse through the walls of the terraced house. The hospital come to realise it when they see some old hospital records of Sarah’s.
The police come to the conclusion that this was a targeted attack, as opposed to a random mugging, because of the sheer amount of violence used. Sarah’s clearly not a suspect, as she’s a victim too, and there’s no way Kelly could overpower a big man like Adam – plus, even if she dislikes Adam, why would she attack her best friend? Adam’s had financial troubles before – which Sarah has always paid off – but perhaps he’s got himself in too deep this time with particularly dangerous people? There’s also the fact that they were attacked near the Rec, where the school bullies – one girl, Kathryn Cowell and five or six boys who are at her beck and call. Could they be responsible? A wrong word or two is all it takes to set gangs like that off, and in these numbers they could easily have overpowered the couple. Not long previously, they’d set fire to a boy’s legs as he wouldn’t give one of the gang his dinner money – but only because he’d already handed it over to another gang member. He (eventually) returns to school in a wheelchair, and one of the school blocks was pretty much destroyed. The police know who was responsible, but are struggling to find proof.
For me, the most impressive thing about Deborah Bee’s writing is the way she captures Kelly’s voice – she sounds exactly like every teenager of that age I know. She’s ballsy and smart, taking in everything around her. People end up forgetting she’s there, or write her off as “just a kid,” when she’s probably as smart as they are. Sarah’s obviously less easy to get to know, given her circumstances, but some memories from her childhood perhaps explain how she ended up in such a dreadful relationship – and not for the first time. Even the peripheral characters – the nurses, Sarah’s father, her mother, her sister, Kelly’s mother, the consultant – are well-developed, with some likeable, others less so.
If this is what Deborah Bee can do with her debut novel, with a twist I thought was incredibly clever, I can’t wait to read more of her work. For someone who’s not the world’s fastest reader, I absolutely flew through this book. An intelligent new talent – and a name to remember.