B.A. Paris writes her second novel with means and motive in mind, but gives little thought to proper characterization
Considered to be “One of the Most Anticipated Thriller Novels of 2017” by Bustle, the second novel from bestselling author B.A. Paris was a tough one for me to read.
The Breakdown opens on Cass Anderson, a schoolteacher who lives in a small hamlet near the wood, on a stormy night as she’s driving home. She takes the shortcut home through the wood despite promising her husband Matthew that she wouldn’t, but she soon realizes how lucky she was to not have crashed in the treacherous conditions. Someone smarter than her had pulled over in a layby to await help or wait out the storm. It isn’t until the next day Cass hears on the news that the car she’d seen had been driven by her new friend Jane – and that the woman had been murdered.
Cass feels incredible guilt at not having stopped to help Jane because then she’d still be alive. Or perhaps, she wonders, would the killer have gotten them both?
It’s this horrible thought that makes Cass grow anxious and suspicious of everything around her. Her anxiety leads to stress, which leads to forgetfulness. Or is the forgetfulness actually the result of early-onset dementia, just like her mother? She can’t tell her husband because she’d promised him she wouldn’t take the shortcut home and she’d never told him about her family history of dementia. So she must figure it out alone if she’s in danger. The only problem is she might not even be able to trust herself.
It sounds interesting, but I’m sorry to say it’s not.
The first twenty pages offer a premise that quickly outstays its welcome. By page fifty I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the same three things: a woman was murdered, Cass feels guilty and anxious, Cass is having increasing lapses in memory. B.A. Paris wants the reader to know that something is very wrong, but once the answer of “early-onset dementia” (EOD) is presented, I literally scoffed.
The memory alone might have suggested EOD, but coupled with the anxiety and paranoia Cass begins exhibiting in regards to the murder I started guessing schizophrenia. In fact, the idea of debilitating mental illness had become so engrained in my mind—thanks to the incessant reminders provided by the author—that after the first hundred pages I half expected the murderer to be Cass.
And then everything about the murder stops. The focus of the novel narrows to Cass and the apparent decline of her mind. The silent calls continue, but Cass stops referencing back to the murder. Her desire to see the killer caught evaporates. Every situation from page 100 forward is meant to detract from the reliability of our narrator. It’s effective, but once again so infuriatingly redundant and not at all what I expect in a thriller.
When the twist finally came—in glorious deus ex machina fashion—I craved the excitement promised by a “psychological thriller” so much that I stayed up reading into the early morning. I tore through the end of the book that had taken me over a month to get even halfway through, and then I set aside the book and got angry. Of course, I can’t tell you why without spoiling the story, but suffice to say that even though everything is laid out and explained, the reader had no chance of figuring out the far-fetched ending.
Half the fun of thrillers and mysteries is the process of putting the clues together for yourself, but only knowing the truth when the protagonist does, or beating yourself up for not having seen it sooner. I reacted by wanting to beat up B.A. Paris for making it impossible. She had the means and motive developed, but the characterization was absent. There were no early hidden hints of whom it might be, only the verdict in the final pages.
Thankfully The Breakdown is easy summer fare. The prose is fluid enough, even if the characters weren’t. Most of the time I felt like I was reading template characters, albeit with only mildly cliché dialogue. It could easily be devoured over the course of a weekend vacation.
But why would you want to?