The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART is a debut novel, but author Peter Swanson demonstrates from the first paragraph of this intriguing thriller that he has the goods. His protagonist is a somewhat nondescript and unimpressive gentleman named George Foss, who is comfortably ensconced as a longtime editor with a highly respected but fading literary magazine. These credentials are of little use to him as he is thrust into a life-or-death situation that quickly becomes all-consuming.
Liana Dector is “the girl with a clock for a heart”; it’s an enigmatic but accurate title for the book, in which the narrative bounces back and forth in time as each revelation raises another question. It begins with Foss having cocktails at his regular bar with his long-term on-again, off-again lover with privileges. Suddenly, he spots a woman across the room whom he believes to be Dector.
While in college, two decades before, she had introduced herself as “Audrey Beck” when they commenced a short but torrid love affair during their freshman year at a New England college. When they parted for Christmas break, with “Audrey” leaving for her home in Florida, Foss assumed that they would pick up where they left off when school re-commenced in January. “Audrey” never returned; the college was informed that she had committed suicide over the holiday. A devastated Foss travelled down to Florida to meet her family and to wrap his head around her sudden end. He soon discovered that the truth of her passing was far more complicated than he could have imagined. The young lady who passed away, who in fact was the real “Audrey Beck,” was not the woman he knew under that name.
"THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART is a debut novel, but author Peter Swanson demonstrates from the first paragraph of this intriguing thriller that he has the goods."
Meanwhile, the individual with whom he had been involved --- Liana Dector --- is wanted for questioning concerning Beck’s murder. On the run for the past 20 years, Dector’s sudden reappearance in Foss’s life cannot be a good thing, and it isn’t. However, she knows exactly which buttons to push, and when she tells Foss that she’s in trouble, he can’t turn away. Foss, it seems, has moved on from his doomed relationship with Dector, but not ahead. While he has had other relationships, he has always wondered if the emotional experience they had over the course of a few short weeks so long ago was real. Her reappearance in his life gives him what he initially sees as a golden opportunity to find out.
The only thing that is truly certain is that Foss was and is out of his league. He is hardly a tough guy --- one hopes while reading that he has a good consulting neurologist on his speed dial --- and Dector is involved with some very rough and dangerous people. Foss may get an answer to the question that has haunted him for all those years, but the price may be more than he is willing to pay.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, it should; comparisons to Body Heat are inevitable, but not entirely accurate. There are just enough interesting differences to keep the reader guessing about the “how,” if not the “what,” of Dector’s motivations. Swanson is also a terrific storyteller, and it’s almost impossible to put the book down until its conclusion. If there is a problem with THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART, it comes at the end, and in two parts. The first consists of Foss providing an explanation concerning what has occurred to some semi-skeptical law enforcement personnel. Most of what he expounds upon at some length is obvious to the reader. The cops may not have figured it out, but we have. The second deals with Foss’s efforts to see if he is correct in that part of his conclusion that deals with Dector’s end game. This felt a bit rushed and is ultimately inconclusive. It is unclear if there is a sequel in the works (Swanson is working on a second novel) or if he simply wanted to let the reader fill in the blanks as to what occurs next.
Regardless, the journey is more than worth the disappointment (if any) one might experience upon arrival at the final destination, however foggy it might be when one gets there.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 7, 2014