I had read too many glowing reviews of Alice LaPlante’s debut Turn of Mind this summer to ignore the book any longer. Despite all of the raves, however, my expectations weren’t high; thrillers aren’t usually of interest to me. But as it turns out, LaPlante’s book, a unique blend of mystery and literary fiction, really is great. The author manages to combine an unreliable narrator, nonlinear storytelling and a riveting mystery into what is undoubtedly one of this summer’s best new books.
Dr. Jennifer White has recently retired from her successful practice as an orthopedic surgeon as a result of her quickly worsening dementia. Shortly after, her best friend of many years, Amanda, a retired junior high school teacher, has been murdered. What is notable, however, is that Amanda’s body is found after four of her fingers had been surgically removed. Dr. White quickly becomes investigators’ prime suspect, but due to her declining memory, is painfully incapable of even knowing herself whether she was involved. As the story unfolds, Dr. White’s deteriorating memory offers bursts of eloquent detail about her family and their relationship with Amanda’s, blurring the line between friendship and enmity.
Turn of Mind made me realize that I haven’t given thrillers a fair chance. I have always associated the suspense genre with B-movie camp, something readers need not risk finding in this novel. Instead, the suspense in Turn of Mind stems from the narrator’s gradual revelations about her family and her inconsistent relationship with Amanda. Dr. White’s children, Fiona and Mark, have power of attorney over her finances and medical care, but Dr. White rightfully suspects that either one or both of them may have ulterior motives affecting their decisions. Dr. White’s bursts of clarity also illustrate a complicated woman in Amanda, leading the reader to build a case for motive against Dr. White.
Ultimately, Turn of Mind resonates beyond its mystery component because of its honest portrayal of the complex, and sometimes brutal, nature of human relationships. In fact, for LaPlante, no relationship is sacred: husbands betray wives, daughters betray mothers, friends betray one another. While this view of companionship is rather grim, it ultimately rings true. Humans are complex as individuals so it should come as no surprise that our relationships with one another would be exponentially so.
Alice LaPlante’s debut novel is a compulsively readable hit. Turn of Mind comes recommended to mystery lovers with a thirst for something extra.