What Remains of Me by A L Gaylin

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What Remains of Me by A L Gaylin

Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: The glamourous (and not so glamourous) Hollywood forms the backdrop to the story of Kelly Lund: convicted in the 1980s of the murder of high profile film director, out on parole some 30 years later, she's back in the frame again for the death of his best friend, a one time screen idol and still a big player in a closed world. Skipping between the first murder and the second, this taut crime story has you believing and not believing everyone in sight. No-one is snow white, but everyone has something that draws in empathy. Absorbing, twisty and all the more satisfying for staying entirely with the suspect's point of view.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: December 2016
Publisher: Arrow
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784756185

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On the hottest night of the year, June 28, 1980 teenager Kelly Lund walked into a wrap party and shot the director, John McFadden dead. Two to the chest, one to the head, dead and centre. She offered no defence, though her attorneys played up her drug use and the heat but she still got 25-to-life. A journalist saw something in her nervous smile on the court steps, part of her defence mechanism others might have argued, called it the Mona Lisa Death Smile and set about building a demon.

For British readers, there are echoes in Gaylin's telling of Lund's story: inescapable echoes of the "moors murderess" Myra Hindley, particularly in the way one image of her takes over the entire public perception of who she is, the misappropriation of that second in a life into a defining image, a piece of art, as if the person behind it never existed. Lund's photograph will be used even more chillingly than Hindley's has been, by someone to whom she was once very close. Perhaps even closer than she realised.

Two years before that fateful night, Lund's twin sister threw herself into the canyon at Chantry Flats. Catherine had been the wild child of Hollywood myth and legend. Kelly had tried to stay home and sober and in school, not necessarily because she wanted to, just because she didn't have her sister's ambition, bravura or looks. She was the younger twin, the quiet one, the good girl.

Until she lost Catherine. Things probably started to change then, but didn't really start heading off the rails until the day Bellamy Marshall, daughter of film idol Sterling Marshall, walked into her classroom and unexpectedly befriended her.

Lund served her time. Towards the end of it she married Marshall's son and upon her parole they took a property in the middle of nowhere and settled down to a quiet life. Marshall Sterling had been John McFadden's best friend. A future of happy family gatherings was never really on the cards.

But life goes on, relatively quietly, until Sterling himself is found dead. Two shots to the chest, one to the head. A slight figure in a grey hoodie is caught on CCTV leaving the scene at 2 in the morning. Kelly Lund has sneakers and hoodie in the washing machine when the police arrive.

I'm ever wary of endorsements on paperback novels, even those from novelists I love. I have been led astray that way, into mediocre crime writing. Not this time though. Believe what Harlan Coben says about this one. It is completely absorbing. He also says it has a knock-out twist – but I'd be hard pushed to know which particular one he is referring to. Like Coben himself, Gaylin takes us through a labyrinth of twists and turns. It is likely that one of your theories along the way will be the right one, working out which is the sleight of hand deciphering required.

I'm an old-school reader preferring my tales told in chronological time, so the skipping about between 1980 (What Kelly Did) and 2010 (What Kelly Did Next?) is a device that is designed to irritate me. It works. It does what it is designed to do. Release the story to you piece by piece, building the tension, keeping you from the truth for as long as possible. I don't like it, because I think it is lazy. It tells me that the writer couldn't tell the tale chronologically and keep the tension. It speaks of that extra layer of skill they've failed to demonstrate. I say that as someone with no pretensions to being able to write at all, and so with no absolute right to criticise. And like I say, it does work. Dismiss this as a personal niggle, signifying nothing.

Every other knack in the crime-writer's toolkit is right there on the page. Sympathy for characters ebbing and flowing the more we get to know them. Suspects and red herrings dangled and withdrawn. No-one being exactly what they seem. Confessions and denials, friendships and betrayals.

And of course, this is Hollywood between 1980 and 2010 so plenty of sex and drugs and if not exactly rock'n'roll then moving-making and power structures that might just have survived from the 1930s.

Unusually this one doesn't follow the investigation. It stays firmly with the murderer / suspect. That is part of its power, it focuses our intention on Lund – where the media at the time demonised her, there is now (it seems) a belated attempt to humanise her. But has she changed, or are we being mis-led?

Of course, at the heart of it, is what lays at the heart of all murder mysteries of whatever sub-genre: secrets and lies. Getting at the truth doesn't need you simply to work out who is lying to whom (everyone in both cases) but about what, and why. What is it the police say: assume nothing, believe no-one, check everything. It's what they say, but not what they do…and conviction isn't something that happens in a court-room, it's something that is designed and drip-fed in the media.

A great crime novel does two things to me: keeps me up late wanting to know what happens next (or before) and at the end has me internet-searching the author to see what else I've missed. Check and check!

If this book appeals then you'll probably also enjoy The Pictures by Guy Bolton.

Buy What Remains of Me by A L Gaylin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Remains of Me by A L Gaylin at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy What Remains of Me by A L Gaylin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Remains of Me by A L Gaylin at Amazon.com.


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