Written by Jeffery Deaver — This author is high up on many people’s list of favourite crime authors, with Lincoln Rhyme his finest creation. He’s sold millions upon millions of books and appears on bestseller lists all around the world, so why would Jeffery Deaver feel that he needs a gimmick for a stand-alone book? When I heard that The October List is a story told backwards, the word ‘gimmick’ did spring to mind. But forget any preconceptions, because this book is a pure work of art. You have to take your hat off to anyone who could come up with such a madcap concept, and then carry it off with so much aplomb.
Deaver is the king of the corkscrew construct, with plots that always keep you guessing right to the end. Imagine then, setting the whole idea on its head and beginning the story at its finale, then progressing (or retreating, perhaps) to where it all began. Each chapter in The October List is timed and dated and the action occurs over just two days. Even the pages and chapters are numbered back to front, to underline the reverse nature of it all. The story begins/ends as single mum Gabriela is sitting in a borrowed apartment in Manhattan, her eyes glued to the clock. Her young daughter has been kidnapped and she is awaiting news of the two men who went to pay the ransom and bring her child to safety. The kidnapper wants a huge amount of cash, as well as The October List, an enigmatic document which is always at the heart of the action.
But this book is like a child’s kaleidoscope, because you turn a page – and suddenly the fragments of plot seem to shimmer and settle into an entirely different pattern. Any old hand in Deaver land would probably expect as much, but The October List pushes it to the very limit. The story is peppered with well-hidden clues – and red herrings – but you will keep reaching the end of a chapter and exclaiming in surprise as yet another unthought-of angle is revealed. I’m not prepared to say much about the plot, for fear of giving anything away – because the only way to read The October List is to go in cold and without any preconceived ideas. ‘Never assume anything’ is a motto that certainly rings true here. Enough said.
Some authors post plot events on a timeline wall to help them keep their story and characters on track. Deaver’s must have looked like the Bayeaux Tapestry, so many and varied are the links and kinks in this narrative. It’s totally absorbing, and when you reluctantly have to put the book down to do something mundane like eat, your mind will still be turning over what you’ve just discovered until its siren call drags you back. You’ll want to read this book again, perhaps even reading it backwards (in time order) but I’m not sure that is such a good idea. The October List is a brilliant concept and a fine read. I urge you to read it, and soon.
Despite its title, The October List comes out 26 September.
Hodder & Stoughton
CFL Rating: 5 Stars