Question: how do you inject some new life into that moldiest of fictional genres, the murder mystery? Answer: by having the victim’s son, who was a boy at the time of the killing, remember some crucial detail decades later as part of a sketchy medical procedure. This is the premise of James Christie’s new novel UNLOCKED. Wally and Lisbeth Foster are siblings who never knew their father and whose mother died in 1972 when they were young: her remains were found in a cave, possibly washed there by floodwaters. The death was ruled accidental, and no one challenged that opinion until 2017, when Wally, undergoing a treatment for his Parkinson’s disease called “deep brain stimulation,” has a vision of himself at age five hearing his mother scream from the next room. Then a man’s voice says, “I’m not taking them. If you’re coming with me, the kids stay here.” The voice sounds like Wally’s Uncle Moze, who raised Lisbeth and him after their mother’s death. Is it a real memory? Or the false result of medical hokum? The answer takes the reader on an epic journey through war, betrayal, and family bonds.
When you write a novel that includes characters who are dead in the beginning, it’s natural to want to give them some life, some backstory, some three-dimensionality. Christie does this with Wally’s parents, Luke and Chrissy. We see a teenaged Chrissy dishing over boys with her mother. We hear Luke’s grim recitation of the firefight he survived in 1960s Vietnam. While some of these scenes feel unnecessary–it’s unclear how Luke’s fifty-year-old military experience advances the plot of a cold case being reopened–they are vivid and entertaining. Christie’s style is easygoing, with a playfulness not often seen in mystery fiction. For example, he describes a handshake between Wally and Louise Kendricks, the assistant D.A. who reopens Chrissy’s case, this way: “In fact, there was more man in his hand than the hands of some healthy lawyers she greeted from time to time.” Perfect.
A thrilling, unique take on an age-old genre, James Christie’s ‘s UNLOCKED hits the all the right notes in telling its unusual tale.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader