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« July 4, 2014

'Phantom Instinct'

Meg Gardiner reignites our love for suspense novels in this murder mystery with plenty of plot twists and pacing that propels
Review by Jessi Cape

Phantom Instinct

by Meg Gardiner
Dutton, Penguin Group, 368 pp., $26.95

Austin resident Meg Gardiner is climbing the literary ranks of some pretty impressive company, and die-hard thriller fans aren't the only readers likely to enjoy her latest crime fiction starring the razor-sharp wit of main character Harper Flynn. Peppered with gruesome henchmen, brutal betrayals, friendships forged in scar tissue, and, naturally, a love triangle, Phantom Instinct leaves the reader questioning her own gut and glancing sideways at strangers.

Pain dulls and horror fades, but the past rarely disappears: "It sucked her into a recurrent loop, where memory became a kind of recidivism." Harper Flynn is bartending at Xenon, a Los Angeles nightclub, when masked assailants, undaunted by police partners on the scene, unleash a torrent of gunfire and mortally wound Flynn's boyfriend. Gardiner offers an early introduction to her villains' cold cruelty with an unordered Molotov cocktail and a lingering vengeance-fueled nightmare. Fast-forward through bereavement and hospitalization to Flynn's visual confirmation of a longtime suspicion that a third shooter is stalking victims of the tragedy. Her only ally, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison, suffered a traumatic brain injury rendering reliable facial recognition and physical agility part of his past. A party of interesting misfits bulks the list of secondary characters who complicate Flynn's mission for the truth: Garrison's former partner, Erika Sorenstam (Det. Olivia Benson, is that you?); a vicious brains-and-brawn team featuring sledgehammer-wielding Zero and his canine firepower; a hyperparanoid stoner computer genius; and a quick-witted teenage girl.

Gardiner reignites our love for suspense novels with plenty of plot twists and pacing that propels. But it's Flynn's tightrope walk between a hard-knock life and her healing heart (plus a notably intricate backstory) that drives through extended scenes of tension and some staccato lines of drama reminiscent of Law and Order: SVU. Fast-paced and fun, we'll catch our breath and hope Harper Flynn makes a return.

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