Written by Peter Swanson — Can you ever forget your first true love? George Foss certainly can’t, even though the girl he loved in his freshman year in college proved to be anything but true. They only had a few short months of happiness together before she disappeared, feared either dead or a fugitive from justice. It’s a complicated story, which the author gradually reveals to us by alternating past and present time frames. Along the way, plenty of hints are dropped that the girl George once knew as Audrey Beck is not quite all she seems nor what he would like her to be.
George himself is a gentleman, somewhat timid and well-behaved. He has built a quiet, respectable life for himself. He has secure employment, a nice apartment in Boston, an on-off relationship with a former colleague, and is still possessed of all his hair. So why does he feel as though his world is settling into an indifferent haze, being slowly drained of all its colours? Whilst he is in the throes of this vague discontent – it would be too much to call it a mid-life crisis – he is the perfect target for his old flame’s reappearance in his life. One night she appears in a bar and asks for his help. She is on the run again and needs a favour. Much against his better judgement, George agrees to help. He simply cannot resist her appeal. It seems a straightforward enough task – a simple delivery of money which she stole from a former employer – but once he accepts the mission, he gets sucked into a world of violent conmen, false identities, dirty money and murder.
As he is delivering the money to unsavoury businessman MacLean, George discovers two things: that the ruthless gangster sent to discover Audrey’s whereabouts is not quite who he claims to be; and that MacLean’s version of events casts some doubts on Audrey’s motives for stealing the money. Shortly after George leaves the MacLean house, the businessman is murdered, and George finds himself having to recite his rather implausible story to the police. Bewildered and hurt by this latest betrayal, George resolves to discover for himself exactly what has happened. This time, he will force Audrey – or whichever name she is currently going under – to tell him the truth.
Although the femme fatale path is a well-trodden one in crime fiction, the story has its charm, filtered as it is through the somewhat naïve eyes of George, and his pig-headed nostalgia for the past. Without moralising, the author explores our general human desire to reinvent ourselves, with the countless lies and re-editing of facts that this entails. The ending, however, becomes too convoluted and messy. I am not sure if the main protagonist has become any wiser by the end of the book, but he has certainly thrown his middle-aged propensity for caution to the wind. There is a hint of a sequel too – not surprising, when you discover that this debut novel has already sold film rights to Hollywood. It certainly has a breathless cinematic quality to it: an exciting thriller, even if it did feel just a little déjà vu.
Finally, there’s the book’s rather odd title, which isn’t particularly relevant to the plot. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart plays a little too much on sounding like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but has little in common with that series.
Faber & Faber Crime
CFL Rating: 4 Stars