Saturday, February 06, 2016

What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin

Quick! Someone interview me! 

Smelly Candle: I volunteer.

Bookfool: Thanks. I didn't know where to start.

SC: That's what I'm here for. That and wafting pleasant odors throughout your library. What is What Remains of Me about?

BF:  It's the story of convicted murderer Kelly Michelle Lund. Five years after her release from prison, where she spent 25 years serving time for the murder of a movie director, John McFadden, her father-in-law is killed and the evidence leads to Kelly. But, did Kelly shoot her father-in-law? Was she even guilty of John McFadden's death?

SC: So, why were you having trouble starting to write about What Remains of Me?

BF: It's got a lot of twists and turns. Kelly's story is told via two timelines as the book jumps back and forth between 1980, the year she killed McFadden (or, did she?) and 2010, when Sterling Marshall is found dead. There's enough complexity to the story to make it hard to describe.

SC: What happened in 1980 to lead to the murder?

BF: There's too much to go into in a review and I don't want to spoil anything but in 1980 Kelly is a vulnerable high school girl whose fraternal twin sister tragically died, two years before. Kelly still mourns her. Their mother is bitter and over-protective. Her father, a stuntman, was badly burned in a movie and he's still working but heavily addicted to painkillers. As the book opens, Kelly meets actor Sterling Marshall's daughter, Bellamy, and they become friends. Unfortunately, Bellamy is a rebel who gets Kelly into trouble as they experiment with drugs. Bellamy introduces Kelly to Vee (short for Vincent), son of John McFadden, and through these friendships Kelly begins to unravel what happened to her sister, Catherine, before her death.

SC: And, what happens in 2010?

BF: In 2010, Kelly is married to Bellamy's little brother, Shane, and living in the desert about two hours' drive from Hollywood. On the night of the murder, she goes for a long drive and returns home covered in blood. It seems fairly straightforward; there's plenty of evidence placing her at the scene. But, why would Kelly murder her father-in-law when she has spent five years living quietly, well away from the Hollywood scene? After all these years, will Kelly find out there's more to her sister's story than she imagined?

SC:  Sounds interesting. What did you think of the writing and characterization?

BF:  The writing is good but nothing that stands out. I would call it typical for the type of book -- written in a way that places you in the scene without noticing the writing. There's a certain skill in the ability of a writer to not stand out. The characters felt very real and three-dimensional to me. They each have their own secrets and problems, things that shape them but which they don't necessarily share with anyone. I liked the unreliability of just about everyone. There is a lot of implication, a lot of unknown that the author gradually shades in.

SC: What did you like the least about What Remains of Me?

BF: There were moments that I was pulled out of a scene because of an inaccuracy or something I thought was questionable. For example, in one scene that takes place in 1980, Bellamy (who is driving) "rolled the windows down" in a Volkswagen Rabbit. As I recall, windows were not electronic in 1980 (we actually owned a Volkswagen in 1980). So, unless Bellamy leaned over Kelly to crank the passenger-side window down, that moment could not have happened as described. However, I should add that I read an ARC that I got from the library and the book is a February 2016 release -- I have not seen the final print version. Some of the errors I found may have been edited out.

SC:  What did you like the most about What Remains of Me?

BF:  It kept me guessing all the way to the end. I love that. There were many times that the answers to the many questions posed in What Remains of Me seemed transparent. They were not.

SC: Recommended or not?

BF: Definitely recommended. What Remains of Me should satisfy psychological thriller readers and those who enjoy mysteries. The reader can't fully understand what Kelly is thinking because she keeps certain bits of her past locked in metaphorical drawers, which makes untangling her thoughts and motivations interesting. And the murder is not necessarily what it seems, so there's definitely a mystery aspect. Harlan Coben's cover blurb says, "Label me a big fan," and, hmm, yes, I do believe fans of Coben would like Gaylin's writing.

SC: Thank you for allowing me to interview you. I don't know if you've noticed this, but I'm a candle and you've never lit me. Not once. I have a purpose, you know, a purpose that has been unfulfilled.

BF: Yes, sorry. You smell perfectly lovely without being lit, though, you see. Thanks for jumping in to interview me when I was desperate.

SC: ----Goes back to corner of desk to sulk----

What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin is a February, 2016 release from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. It is 374 pages long if you include the author acknowledgments (I always read them . . . do you?) and my copy came from a cart of ARCs being given away in my former library.

©2016 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I just love these review formats! They're hilarious and a fun way to review a book. I used to read nothing but mysteries and kind of burned myself out. Lately I've been wanting to read them again. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

    1. Thanks, Jenny! I have fun with the so-called "self-interview" (although I only use it when I'm desperate). I just could not figure out where to start writing this one.

      I did exactly the same thing. I read mysteries exclusively for several years -- went most of the way through quite a number of series -- and then all of a sudden, one day, I couldn't stand them, anymore. It took years before I could read one again. Now, I'll occasionally pick one up for the change of pace but I'd never go back to reading them regularly. Burnout lasts a long, long time.


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