Meg Gardiner,
Phantom Instinct
(Dutton, 2014)

In Phantom Instinct, veteran thriller writer Meg Gardiner gives us a strong suspense novel built on the idea that, sooner or later, your past inevitably catches up to you and strongly alters your present and, if you don't catch some luck, your future.

In the opening scenes, Harper Flynn, a bartender in an upscale LA club, watches helplessly as a group of bad guys enter and begin shooting up the place. Two cops are on the scene and a major shootout occurs, lasting until one of the bad guys unleashes a bomb that destroys the club, along with all the evidence that could identify them. Among the dead is Drew, Harper's boyfriend, and among the waking wounded is LA sheriff deputy Aiden Garrison.

With the two shooters killed in the explosion, the case is closed.

The action flashes forward a year. Harper, trying to rebuild her life, has returned to school but the case won't stay closed. She knows a third shooter was involved and escaped. She also knows he is still out there and is, for some reason, after her. The problem is she can't convince the cops that there was a third shooter; because of the fire, no evidence of one exists.

Harper goes to the only person who believes her, Aiden Garrison, who also saw the third shooter. However, his testimony doesn't help because he was injured during the explosion and now suffers from the Fregoli Syndrome, a rare (and actual) brain disorder in which brain trauma creates a series of hallucinations in which the sufferer sees not the person in front of him but the person who haunts his mind. Known as the doubling effect, Fregoli can turn the person you see into someone else entirely. Garrison sees the third shooter everywhere, so his claim to have seen the third shooter, shall we say, lacks a certain amount of credibility.

An additional problem in trying to enlist the cops to help them is that Harper herself lacks credibility. A former child criminal who served time in juvenile, she reinvented herself as Harper Flynn and has been trying to build a new life but, as it turns out, her old life is tied to the explosion and the killings.

After stacking the deck against her two protagonists, Gardiner turns loose a set of villains who are more organized, deadly and possibly smarter than Flynn and Garrison.

Going along with their attempts to keep themselves alive and bring down the bad guys is a lot of fun. It's a thrill ride worth taking.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

7 March 2015

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