The popularity of novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train with an intriguing premise, unreliable narrators and plot twists, has put the spotlight on psychological suspense stories. Such stories have a thriller like urgency about them and yet are rooted in familiar, real life situations. A well crafted, edgy psychological suspense can keep the reader hooked till the very last page.
The novella Where Did You Go? by debut author P.L. Jonas begins with an intriguing set up. Sammy, a successful but reclusive ghostwriter, is offered a chance of a life time. The project involves completing a half-finished manuscript by her favourite writer, Margaret Mitchell, the celebrated author of the all-time classic Gone with the Wind. Her brief is simple: she needs to follow the outline that the author has left behind and submit a draft within a tight deadline.
Her publisher, James, is confident that Sammy has what it takes to finish the novel. The chance of having her name on the book along with that of Mitchell is an exciting prospect. Even though she is extremely anxious about the publicity that such a high-profile project is bound to attract, she agrees to take it up.
As she dives into the project, Sammy begins to have doubts. Has she bitten off more than she can chew? And what's with the vivid dreams of Rhett Butler where she finds herself in the role of Scarlett? Is it just the pressure of writing the book and the looming deadline? Only problem is that she doesn't remember adding several scenes to the manuscript. Is she sleep-writing? Is that even possible?
Like every good psychological suspense novel, this one too probes the mysteries of the mind. Sammy as the unreliable narrator keeps the reader's attention hooked. With little breadcrumbs thrown in about Sammy's childhood years and her troubled relationship with her mother, the author puts together a gripping plot. What the author does beautifully is make the main character and her career (ghostwriter) an intriguing part of the character's mental makeup. Is Sammy just a writer who like many others in the business has a vivid fantasy-prone imagination? Or is there something in her past that she is hiding? Are her dreams just dreams or is there some truth to the scenarios that are being revealed to her in her dreams?
The flaw in the story is that the plot twist comes a little too early. And the subsequent revelations are more tell than show. While the story revolves mainly around Sammy and her inner world, the other characters like James (her school friend and now publisher), her estranged brother Matthew do play minor roles. The author has missed an opportunity to mine these relationships to further deepen the mystery before giving us the big reveal. Gloria's role as the nosy neighbour too remains underdeveloped.
Overall though, it's an engrossing read. If you enjoy reading psychological suspense, you won't be disappointed.
Thanks to Saga Fiction for an Advance Review Copy of the book.