There are three big reasons why Flashback, the newest offering from Dan Simmons, really should not have appealed to me. Like at all.
Number One: It's a gritty thriller, which is to say, not my thing. These are the kinds of books guys tend to pick up in airports and I tend to pick up not at all. Okay, I do have a slight obsession with Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series, but other than that ... really not my genre.
Number Two: One of the reasons I give books like these a wide berth is they're almost always filled with crude language, rampant violence and graphic sex. Flashback is no exception, although it's got a lot more of the first two than the last. Still.
Number Three: It's by Dan Simmons. Not that I have anything against the guy, but I read the first few chapters of both The Terror and Drood and ended up abandoning them both. So, yeah.
Given all that, I shouldn't have liked Flashback.
Except I did.
I'll give you three reasons:
Number One: It's dystopian. What can I say? I'm a junkie. The world Simmons creates in Flashback isn't postapocalyptic - not exactly - but it's most assuredly dystopian. He describes a United States brought to its knees by economic collapse, a country ruled by warring factions, a nation so indebted to foreign governments that it sends teenage armies overseas in exchange for cold, hard cash. It's a bleak, brutal world, one that teeters on the brink of anarchy, civil war and total annihaltion by any number of nuke-toting superpowers.
Number Two: The premise. At its heart, Flashback is a murder mystery, but it's a murder mystery with flair. Think Mad Max meets Inception and you're sorta close. The story goes something like this: Denver detective Nick Bottom (yes, like the Shakespeare character) wants to find the person who killed 21-year-old Keigo Nakamura six years ago. He needs the work, or rather the money Keigo's billionaire father promises to pay, to support his drug habit. Nick's not the only American addicted to Flashback, a substance that allows users to escape the real world by "flashing" on old memories, but his overuse has cost him his job, his reputation and every single new dollar in his savings. Nick's desperate for more cash, more Flashback, more time to relive precious moments with his dead wife. To earn it, he'll have to "flash" back to the days when he first investigated Keigo's death, wander through his memory searching for new leads, and follow them in real time to solve a case that's growing colder by the second. Along the way he'll make shocking discoveries about his employer, his wife, his 16-year-old son and, most of all, himself.
If you're familiar with Denver - or even if you're not - you might be interested in what Simmons does with its premiere indie bookstore, the Tattered Cover. When Nick visits the shop on East Colfax Street, he describes it thus:
The sequestered nooks were still there, but the serenity of books had been missing for decades now. The newer TC, across Colfax Avenue from the huge flophouse for the homeless that had been the once-proud East High School, was now a combination of flashcave and all-night beer joint. Oddly enough, many of the flashback addicts who inhabited the sequestered nooks of the lower levels of the cluttered old bookstore had come there to read: after they'd lost or sold their old books, they used flashback to relive the experience of reading Moby Dick or Lolita or Robin Hood or whatever the hell it was for the first time again, somewhere on a cot here in the rotting confines of the once-great independent bookstore. "It's like that old zombie movie where the walking dead go back to the shopping malls," Dara had once said. "Their rotting brains associate the malls with a sense of well-being ... like these flashers gravitating back to a bookstore" (356-57).
Makes sense to me.
Number Three: The delivery. Flashback is a long book, a very long book, actually (550 pages), but it hardly dragged at all for me. The story chugs right along with plenty of action, plenty of suspense, and plenty of fascinating detours that added new layers to the plot. I'm not saying it's the best book I've ever read, I'm just saying that it was entertaining. And thought-provoking. Surprisingly so for a gritty, airport-guy thriller. I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Shocked? I am.
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, violence, and sexual content
To the FTC, with love: Another library