In BLOOD MEMORY, the latest novel from Greg Iles, elderly men who
seem to have nothing in common are being tortured and murdered. The
grizzly crimes are carried out by a gunshot to the spine, then
mauling by human teeth, and finally a point blank shot to the head.
The crime scenes are clean, except for the cryptic message written
with the victim's blood: "My Work Is Never Done." The New Orleans
Police Department asks Catherine "Cat" DeSalle Ferry, a forensic
odontologist with a world-class reputation, to consult with them
and the FBI. Five men die before law enforcement has any idea who
could be behind the killings or why these particular seniors have
been targeted. The murders take place in the sultry south between
New Orleans, Natchez and the Mississippi delta.
Cat is an heiress who has removed herself from her family and their
money. She lives a successful and fulfilling life despite the
gremlins that haunt her dreams and plague her recurring nightmares.
Her personal history consists of suicide attempts, dangerous
behavior, rebelliousness and substance abuse. She has been to
doctor after doctor and therapist after therapist without finding
the root of her perplexing personality disorder. As the book begins
she is in therapy with a woman who allows her enormous freedom,
which gives Cat time and energy to uncover the secrets buried in
her psyche. She must find the strength to face her demons, which
started to haunt her after her father's murder when she was a
child. Her sleep is never restful, and while she can remember her
nightmares, they stop at the strategic point where she can "see"
what haunts her.
The bitten corpses are piling up, and after fainting at two of the
crime scenes, Cat is taken off the case. She is mortified and
returns home to try to rest and to uncover the secrets she is sure
her family has been keeping for years. She starts to have
flashbacks and is very unnerved by seemingly random thoughts of
places she has been but cannot remember. Her mother is no help. Her
grandfather is a tyrant. The maid is too afraid to tell her
anything. Thus, while still concerned about the murders in New
Orleans, she decides to stay home. This decision becomes an
obsession when a guest spills a chemical on the rug in her old room
and two bloody footprints, those of a child and a man, are raised
on the carpet. This is the final straw, and Cat is determined to
find the truth with or without help.
Sean Regan is "the fascinating, insightful detective [she's] been
sleeping with for the last eighteen months." Cat is in way over her
head with this guy, who is married and has three children. She has
been a promiscuous woman and has always gravitated toward married
men. They are safe and the commitment is fleeting. That is, until
she meets Sean and convinces herself that she may have a future
with this man --- if he will leave his wife and children. But he is
a user. He is a spoiler who expects Cat to help him solve crimes
that she should have no part of. He is obsessed about his clearing
rate and will do anything to put a murder case to rest. He becomes
very angry when Cat tells him she is not returning to New Orleans,
and they have a disturbing argument that sends her to one of the
only places she can find peace --- through the woods to the house
next door where she knows she can use the swimming pool.
Cat has been a champion swimmer for most of her life and is an
expert free fall diver. When she was in school her grandfather
refused to build a pool on the family property. This forced her to
practice in the neighbor's pool, which she discovers is still there
and seems to be waiting for her. "I find a flat, heavy rock about
the size of a serving platter. This I carry down the steps into the
shallow end. After a period of pre-immersion meditation, during
which my heart slows to around sixty beats per minute I lie down on
my back beneath the water and set the rock on my chest. Free divers
train themselves to ignore [the] first 'physical scream' for oxygen
… which would send a normal person into a full-blown panic."
As she moves through the different stages of acclimation she
affirms that she feels "the steady descent to a state of relaxation
[she] can find nowhere else in [her] life."
The author uses this scene to allow us into Cat's mind and to bring
Dr. Michael Wells, a young pediatrician, into the story. He now
owns the house next door and finds Cat in her underwear, with a
rock on her chest, underwater and immobile. He thinks she's dead
and tries to rescue her. They discover that they knew each other in
high school and begin a friendship that offers Cat unconditional
trust and someone upon whom she can depend to get her out of
trouble without having a sexual relationship. He becomes a
steadying force in Cat's life; his support gives her the strength
to finally unravel the twisted events of her violent childhood, and
she also solves the case of the dead men and their bites.
Greg Isles dedicates BLOOD MEMORY "to those women who realize in
the dead of night that something is wrong, and has been for a long
time. More than most, they know that Faulkner's words are true:
'There is no such thing as was --- only is. If
was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow.' You are not
alone." In his Acknowledgements he writes: "Accounts of sexual
abuse are difficult to deal with, even on the written page. To
recount personal experiences is nothing short of heroic. Few crime
victims face the battles that those who as adults begin to recall
childhood sexual abuse must fight. Far too often family members and
the general public refuse to believe their claims, even in the face
of corroborative evidence. None of us wants to think about the
harrowing crimes that innocent children suffer in their own homes.
But we owe everyone who has such memories a fair hearing. Please
don't ignore any child or adult who claims that she --- or he ---
has been sexually abused."
Cat speaks the final lines of the book, to her unborn child: "It's
going to be different for you … Your mama knows what love
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 22, 2010