Received a copy of Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
"She'd learned way back: You can't control what other people do or how they see you. You can only control your own reactions. Life owed you nothing. Life came upon you. You built what you could."
Right from the jump this book grabs you and despite the shaking it never let's you go. The reader is thrown right into the situation that causes the lives of many to change and gradually becomes an intense focus for some of the survivors as they survey that tragic night from the beginning of the book to the end. Often times for me mystery and suspense novels must be taken in small doses. I find the twists and turns to be predictable, characters to be obvious, and the details of the story to be of little importance. With Phantom Instinct the author has some interesting plot points and manages to have a few twists and turns that even I, a man of keen eye, didn't see coming.
Reminiscent of my times in Cancun, Toronto, and old Quebec City where maximum occupancy limits are a mere afterthought when it comes to drunken twentysomethings with lined pockets, Phantom Instinct takes a nightclub owners worst dream and makes it an unforgiving reality. In the city of angels Harper Flynn seems like your typical big city bartender, she's attractive, she's witty, and she can most definitely hold her own among the lacquered up patrons. But what is not easy to digest is the troubled past that has brought her to this point in her life. On one oh so typical night at Xenon, Harper is meeting with her boyfriend Drew Westerman when a self-fulfilling prophecy of hell fire and brimstone comes to fruition. When Arliss Bale, a well-known Las Vegas high-roller and methamphetamine kingpin shows up in the club engulfed in henchmen, entourage and hangers-on Harper questions how he was allowed entry and knows foul play is soon to follow. What happens next, again is not much of a surprise, that is until one of the gunmen throws a highly-combustible molotov cocktail with an intent to kill innocent civilians and burn the club to the ground.
Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies Aiden Garrison and Erika Sorenstam are in the vicinity of Xenon that night providing surveillance when shots are fired. In the midst of the melee with people spilling out the doors and the only police presence in the building Aiden takes action killing the two gunmen. As the building becomes ablaze both Aiden and Harper see a shadowy man in a shadowy corner holding a shadowy gun, with no time to spare Harper, Aiden, and Erika flee from the building leaving Drew as the only one dead.
"Necessity is the mother of invention. Desperation is the author of crazy assessment exits."
Since the fire Aiden has been exhaustive in his efforts telling officers that there was a third gunmen at the club despite the case being closed for close to a year. Aiden has taken a much needed, some would say encouraged break from the force, initially the reason is not known but what we eventually find out is that a psychological problem has left him unable to go back on duty and hold a gun for that matter. Two strangers with similar pasts, that once lived on opposite sides of the legal boundary have found a common bond in the investigation of murders in a nightclub fire and the involvement of a phantom third shooter.
Aiden had two successful tours in Afghanistan, success meaning he didn't suffer any injuries. In six years as a member of the police force his body has taken a pounding with the most serious being the traumatic brain injury he suffered that night at the club. As a result of his TBI he was diagnosed with Fregoli Delusion or Syndrome which is a rare disorder that finds the afflicted seeing known individuals in the bodies and faces of complete strangers. At times people with this type of delusion often misidentify people, places, or objects and for a detective that holds the lives of others in his hands, this is not a recipe for success.
Harper's dad died when she was a kid. It was a tragic event at a weapons testing facility belonging to the naval branch of the military. Harper was left in the care of her mother Lila who was a habitual drinker. Harper turned to seek a family type atmosphere which was found when she joined a crew of thieves and a life of petty crimes. Harper had no qualms about her past as she joined the navy herself as a means of turning her life around. She spent four years doing threat analysis and worked as a Russian translator for the navy. She is enrolled as a student in UCLA's linguistics program and has become a distributor of alcohol in the form of a bartender in order to stay on the right path.
"Say it isn't true, Harper thought. But she knew that betrayal was the way of the world. It was the way she had been raised. It was every lost weekend with her mom. It was being left in a wrecked car on the highway downhill from this godforsaken compound, alone and facing the law for a crime her own mother had committed. It was caring for this girl, and seeing hatred spin in her eyes."
A modernized twist on a classic cat-and-mouse game filled with the manipulation of internet streams and the taking advantage of online "in"securities. In totality it was made complete with the key component of preying upon a person's desire for justice and one person's thirst for revenge. This book has mystery, suspense, action, romance, and has some funny moments as well like the one I noted below of Harper trying to get her friend Oscar out of a precarious situation.
"The security guard followed. 'Ma'am? The problem?'
She tried to think of something, but all that came to her was, I am a squirrel. Then they passed beneath the banners offering a chance to win a free car.
'Corvette's Syndrome,' she said. 'Similar to Tourette's but the involuntary compulsive behavior isn't verbal. It's prey behavior. Begins with flight - hiding then fleeing. You saw that.'
'Corvette's?' The guard said.
'It escalates rapidly if an episode occurs in a confined spaces with droning ambient noise. Such as Muzak, and, really - 'Love in an Elevator? Come on.' She tugged Oscar down the stairs. 'Once it reaches that stage, disrobing quickly follows. I need to get him to the doctor's office.'
'Dentist,' Oscar said. "