Thursday, July 4, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: Disclaimer

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on September 15, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Disclaimer -- Renee Knight
Harper Publishing
352 Pages

Sometimes I pick up a book based solely on the jacket cover thinking it’s going to be a great book. More often than not, it is exactly that. Disclaimer by Renee Knight is a psychological thriller that slowly builds in intensity, pulling the reader along for a ride that keeps you guessing.

Imagine if you will, a single moment in your past has come back to haunt you long after you thought it had all gone away. In that moment, a life was sacrificed. Now,all this time later, someone has discovered the secret and is using that information to destroy the world you have built in the intervening years.

Catherine Ravensroft is a filmmaker, wife and mother who has lived the perfect life. Then a novel, The Perfect Stranger, shows up at her bedside. While reading it, she is horrified when she realizes that it depicts a dark day from years before. The book vividly details the dark secret that she thought had finally been left behind. Now, someone is using it to shatter her carefully constructed life.

Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher and widower, discovers photos and a story that his wife had written surrounding the death of their son. The pictures depict a young Catherine in various states of undress. The notes left behind by Stephen’s wife indicate this woman had something to do with the death of their son. He decides she must atone for her part in the death of his only child.

Brigstocke sets out to write a novel that uncovers all the lurid details of his son’s last few days and Catherine’s involvement as revealed through the series of notes left behind. With the finished novel published, he sets out to destroy Catherine’s life for taking away his son. 

Upon release of the novel and delivery on Catherine’s doorstep, everything begins to unravel. Catherine’s marriage stumbles and her already distant son stays even farther away from her. At the same time, more of the story is revealed to Brigstocke, throwing doubt into the story that his wife had so painstakingly researched. In the end, the truth finally comes out and it’s not what anyone was expecting.

Disclaimer is the same type of suspense fiction as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Renee Knight develops a great plot, delving deep into the minds of the secret maker and the secret breaker. Every page turn opens up the crux of those secrets only to be rebuffed with another bit of action that sends the reader looking for answers in different places.

This biggest negative to this book is the characters. Plainly stated, there is not one likable character in the entire book. Brigstocke is a shady guy who never really gets beyond the creepiness of a peeping Tom. His students hated him. There was even quite a bit of distance between he and his son.

Catherine could have easily solved all her own problems with the release of the book by explaining to her husband what happened on that beach so many years before. Instead, she lurks in her own shadows hoping that Brigstocke and his book will just go away. Sure, what happened to her was embarrassing, but the man she loves should be the one she could confide in. She drives away her son, much like Brigstocke did. Frankly, the characters in this book were whiny, indecisive caricatures.

Despite my issues with the characters, the storyline was fantastic. Knight does a good job setting the stage and moving the action. Perhaps as she hones her craft, she will be able to develop her characters more fully and truly create an astounding book. I look forward to her next novel,hoping to match the plot with improved characters.

Craig Bacon knows what you did last summer. Maybe he’ll write a book about it