Identified as a “super-recogniser”, someone with the very rare ability to immediately identify someone on the basis of a split-second glance, Kate used to work with the police, enabling them to bring many criminals to justice. As no computer-generated technology came close to matching her skills, her expertise was as valued by the detective team she worked with as it was feared by the criminals. However, six months ago a serious car crash left her with a devastating brain injury and now, the woman who never forgot a face is barely able to recognise herself when she looks in the mirror.

When still recovering in hospital she meets Rob, who helps to nurse her back to health when he moves her down to live with him in his luxurious, high-tech house in Cornwall. He is a handsome young millionaire, running his own successful tech company and currently working on direct neural interface technology, something which may be of benefit to Kate’s recovery. Their relationship has grown ever closer and when she’s with him her nightmares begin to recede; she feels loved and safe and hopes that her memory will, in time, be fully restored.

However, she feels disturbed when Rob shares that many years earlier, in Thailand, he had met his double and seems to be obsessed with a fear that, if he ever sees him again, this doppelgänger will take over his life and soul. So, it becomes clear that she is not the only one who fears the future, that Rob too is living with a nightmare scenario of his own. Maybe that’s one reason why every single feature of life in his high-tech home can be controlled, by him alone, via apps on his phone. Then one day, Kate looks at Rob and becomes convinced that the man in front of her is not the man she loves and trusts but is an imposter who looks almost, but not quite, like him. Can she possibly be right? Have her old skills returned, enabling her to detect some subtle differences in appearance? Or maybe it’s all in her damaged mind? Who can she trust to help her sort it out?

This complex and compelling story is told from the perspectives of Kate, her ex-boyfriend Jake, from whom she had split up after a ten-year relationship but who is still in love with her, and Silas, her old boss, who feels some responsibility for her accident, believing that by pushing her too hard in his determination to bring criminals to justice, she had been stressed and exhausted when she crashed her car. These separate narrative strands added a satisfying depth to the developing story, gradually revealing the backgrounds of each of the characters and the various events which have brought them all together. These main characters all felt very credible so I found it easy to identify with them, to understand their different motivations as they tried to resolve the crises they were facing, and to quickly start to care about what happened to them.

It soon becomes apparent that the threats to Kate’s sanity, as well as to her life, are coming from multiple directions, especially when something happens which appears to indicate that she has become targeted by members of a criminal gang who are, apparently, seeking revenge after her identifications led to a successful criminal prosecution. Hardly any wonder then that she is struggling to know who is trustworthy! The author’s use of a doppelgänger to help drive the story was a clever device to increase the tension Kate was feeling about whether or not she should trust, or doubt, her own instincts. It also made me reflect on whether we do all have a double somewhere and how we would react if we came face to face with our mirror-image … or is the idea merely a defensive projection of the darker side of ourselves which we all fear?!

Although there are moments when certain aspects of the plotting did require some suspension of disbelief, on balance the development of the story felt reasonably plausible, particularly when taking into consideration the rapid technological advancements which affect so many aspects of modern-day living. I enjoyed the various ways in which the author used his research into the functioning of the human brain, the latest developments into facial-recognition software (it was heartening to discover that human beings remain much more reliable than machines … for now, at least!) because not only did this add interest to the story, it also increased my knowledge … something I always appreciate in my reading!

With themes which include the reliability (or otherwise!) of memory, identity, paranoia, deceit, loyalty, friendship, the use, and abuse, of modern technology (to name just a few!) this is a story which is likely to provoke lots of interesting discussion in reading groups.

Full of an ever-increasing tension and some surprising twists and turns, this is a dark and disturbing psychological thriller, one which is likely to make any reader just that bit more suspicious about the impact modern technology has, and is increasingly likely to have, on our lives! This is the first of J.S. Monroe’s novels which I have read but his ability to tell a good story means that I’m now keen to seek out his two earlier ones, Find Me and Forget My Name.

Linda Hepworth 4/4

The Other You by J.S. Monroe
Head of Zeus 9781789541670 hbk Jan 2020