Blame: A Thriller

  • By Jeff Abbott
  • Grand Central Publishing
  • 384 pp.
  • Reviewed by Colleen J. Shogan
  • July 27, 2017

A heroine in peril searches for a forgotten past.

More than I care to admit, there are instances when I find it difficult to remember what happened the day before. But imagine if years of a young life were entirely erased after a horrific car crash? Jeff Abbott’s latest thriller, Blame, encourages readers to grapple with the after-effects of long-term amnesia.

The notion of not remembering the past may seem nothing more than an inconvenience. Abbott convinces us otherwise. As a high school student, Jane Norton survives a harrowing car accident that kills her neighbor and childhood pal.

Because Jane cannot remember what happened, she becomes a pariah in her small hometown, especially after a handwritten note is found at the scene implying a suicide attempt. Jane becomes the girl who lives but conveniently forgets what she has done, which makes her an opportune scapegoat for the death of the popular football star.

Several years after the crash, Jane tries to continue with her life, yet unhappiness seems to follow her at every turn. After flunking out of college, she takes to the streets, alternating between homelessness and staying with a high school friend who seems inexplicably eager to provide her with comfort, food, and a place to stay.

She has no plans to alter her itinerant lifestyle until a mysterious online presence pops up. Named Liv Danger, this individual claims to know what really happened that terrible night. Jane decides enough is enough. Although her amnesia persists, she’s determined to find out what Liv knows and, more importantly, how he or she could possibly possess such valuable knowledge.

The story moves faster in the second half of the novel than the first. At times, the early chapters drag with backstory about Jane’s relationships immediately before and after her accident. I sometimes found the transitions between past and present jarring. The narrative often shifts to the past just as Jane seems to make progress on her quest to find Liv Danger. Although these backstory elements are important to the novel’s plot, they still tended to undercut the suspense.

The strongest element of Blame is its blending of genres. It certainly should be classified as a thriller, as there’s plenty of tension and surprise for thriller fans to enjoy. But Blame also offers many hallmarks of the traditional mystery, too. There’s no murder to solve, per se, but classic whodunit elements abound.

Someone is posting information online as Liv Danger, and Jane needs to play teenage sleuth to discover the perpetrator. There’s a finite list of suspects, and Jane methodically investigates each one of them, trying her best to patch together her spotty memory while attempting to preserve her own safety at the same time. The novel combines revelation and surprise, making it entertaining and satisfying.

The twists and turns — including the way the action unfolds in the accurately described suburbs of Austin — highlight Abbott’s strengths as a writer. Once he gets going, the story moves at a terrific pace, making it hard for a reader to put down the book.

One weakness in the book is Abbott’s character development. Although she is the heroine of the story, Jane is not particularly likable. That’s fine, and for fans of mystery, it may be refreshing. However, I never got a sense of why she persisted in treating other characters in the fashion she did. I won’t provide more detail, lest I risk spoiling the ending.

Nonetheless, the final resolution didn’t leave me as surprised as I might have been. Jane makes several bone-headed choices throughout the plot. Once again, no problem. Protagonists shouldn’t be perfect. But, as readers, we should understand why she’s making these bad decisions. Her motivations are sometimes unknown, resulting in a lack of clarity explaining her actions.

Perhaps it’s the amnesia that makes it hard for readers to relate to Jane with empathy and grasp what makes her tick. If so, it could be another casualty of long-term memory loss that Abbott wants to flag for readers. But it has implications for the believability and evolution of the plot.

One major twist at the end of the novel seems particularly unrealistic, since Jane interacts repeatedly with several key high school acquaintances after the accident. Even if she could not remember anything about her previous relationships, it would make sense that someone would’ve filled in the gaps, thus leading her to discover critical details explaining why she was in a car with David on the night of the accident.

Summer isn’t over yet. Fans of Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, and Paula Hawkins will enjoy reading Blame on the beach or poolside. The shortcomings of the book are easily outnumbered by its strengths and virtues. Moments of short-term, benign forgetfulness will never seem more innocent.

Colleen J. Shogan writes the Washington Whodunit mystery series, published by Camel Press and Harlequin. Her latest novel is Calamity at the Continental Club. Most days, she shows up at the Library of Congress and is miraculously paid for supremely interesting work in the public outreach division. A political scientist by training, she is a member of Sisters in Crime and lives in Arlington, VA.

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