“We are a tale we tell ourselves: editing, adding, mythologising, and of course we do it to each other too.”
So The Doves, by Heidi James, is an intelligent murder mystery set in Medway, Kent. Its protagonist is Marcus Murray, an award winning journalist working for a prestigious London newspaper that has just published his impeccably sourced exposé of an influential, international organisation. Marcus uncovered the company’s involvement in illicit currency trades leading to government arms deals in the middle east. He considers himself a good guy but has opened a Pandora’s Box, and he too has an Achilles heel.
When Marcus’s boss sends him to cover the story of a body found near his old home town he is irritated at being set a task he now considers beneath him. Staying with his elderly mother in his childhood bedroom, memories of a life changing teenage friendship, the ending of which he has long suppressed, return. When he realises that he has been removed from London to enable his newspaper to protect itself, he must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice for the principles on which he has built his life and career.
The story jumps between 1989 and the present day. As fifteen year olds, Melanie Shoreham befriends Marcus when he moves from his fee paying school to the local comprehensive. He basks in the reflection of the image he builds of Mel, never truly understanding what her life has entailed.
“Were they really so different? Maybe they were and maybe he believed that if he could only figure her out, emulate her – her gestures, her attitude – then maybe he could be invincible, extraordinary, like her.”
In the present day Marcus strikes up a friendship with one of the detectives on the local murder case. Marcus is wary of relationships and cannot trust the motives of his new lover, initial perceptions bolstered by his view of the flat where they go to have sex.
“His place was neat and stylishly bland, like a flat in those estate agent brochures. Everything matching, and revealing nothing about the owner except that they have no taste of their own.”
Marcus cannot tell if his wariness is due to his growing paranoia, the innate ability be believes he has to read others, or a hangover from the teenage memories now crowding his days.
“The brain sees what it wants to see, looking for patterns and the familiar, what we know. Perhaps that was it? We’re trapped in the wireframe of our memories, building our present from old images.”
All but cut off from his London life, Marcus’s refusal to capitulate brings the trouble generated to Kent. Even now he is unsure of what is real and what he is constructing to excuse his increasingly volatile behaviour.
An undercurrent of foreboding slowly rises to the surface. Marcus struggles to maintain his veneer of studious truth-seeking which is gradually being peeled away. The fictions he has created which pass as memory have enabled him to live with his selfishness and failings. He was not proud of his behaviour then, and must now confront the fact that he may be no better decades later.
When the timelines come together, after the police investigation uncover links, Marcus is forced to remember events leading up to the last time he saw Mel. He revisits the past, but powerful forces are reinterpreting what is known to suit their own ends.
This is an evocative study of memory and the stories we create to shape how we regard ourselves. Its razor sharp percipience is in places discomfiting but this never detracts from the tension of the storytelling.
“Memory, if we’re honest, is a servile , biased little beast, delivering up half-remembered scenes that cast, at the very least, a flattering light over even the worst moments. […] We hunt like toothy little animals for patterns, for meaning, scurrying about gathering our special tales to line our nests and keep us warm at night.”
Artfully told this tale demands that the reader question their core perceptions of themselves. It is a disturbing, compelling, ultimately satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bluemoose.