The day the Nazis march into Paris. It made headlines around the globe.
Paris police detective Eddie Giral – a survivor of the last World War – watches helplessly on as his world changes forever.
But there is something he still has control over. Finding whoever is responsible for the murder of four refugees. The unwanted dead, who no one wants to claim.
To do so, he must tread carefully between the Occupation and the Resistance, between truth and lies, between the man he is and the man he was.
All the while becoming whoever he must be to survive in this new and terrible order descending on his home.
My followers should know by now that I am a huge fan of WW2 historical crime fiction, I was kindly given a copy of Paris requiem by Orion Books, and before I read it, I wanted to read the first in the Eddie Giral novels by Chris Lloyd, The Unwanted Dead.
The Unwanted Dead is an absolute tour de force of a historical fiction novel. The opening chapter lets us meet our protagonist, Paris Police Detective Eddie Giral. It’s June 1940 and the Nazis have just waltzed into Paris and have taken over everything. For Eddie as a Detective in the French Police, this now means that he is working for the Nazis… however this does not sit well with him!
In The Unwanted Dead the reader is taken back in time into an immersive novel that is extraordinary in how it depicts life during the occupation of Paris. Eddie Giral is a fantastic character who I instantly grew to like – his use of sarcastic humour and comments to Nazi Officers had me laughing out loud! Chris Lloyd has managed to write with such realism that I really felt I was actually there by Eddies side during this complex but unputdownable thriller. The plot and storyline are exquisite and I can quite see why The Unwanted Dead won the HWA Gold Crown Award for Historical Fiction. To be able to transport the reader to another time is a real feat and to make it during the WW2 occupation in France is just brilliant.
I loved The Unwanted Dead and raced through it, it’s a great storyline and the plot is tense and vividly written! I especially liked how we got inside Eddie Girals mind and found out how he really felt trying to do his Detective job under increasing interference from his Nazi oppressors.
If you like WW2 fictional thrillers then I urge you to buy The Unwanted Dead, Im looking forward to reading the next in the series – Paris Requiem.
An extraordinary portrait of life at the heart of Heinrich Himmler’s court at the heart of the Nazi Regime.
In 1938, before the outbreak of the Second World War, Dr Felix Kersten an avuncular Finnish physician was introduced to Heinrich Himmler, the chief architect of the Holocaust. Seemingly the only person who could cure Himmler of his crippling stomach cramps, Kersten worked on Himmler’s vanity and gratitude Kersten to save the lives of thousands of people and was celebrated across Europe, culminating in Joseph Kessel’s 1961 bestseller, The Man with Miraculous Hands.
And yet, Kersten’s historical legacy is not flawless, and a new introduction by bestselling author Norman Ohler deals with the historical legacy of Kersten’s more exaggerated claims and asks directly why a man who had done so much good would risk damaging that reputation.
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Woody Harrelson, The Man with Miraculous Hands is an extraordinarily revealing portrayal of the deranged atmosphere in Himmler’s court where paranoia and vicious rivalries reigned. Shedding a new light on the darkest days of the twentieth century, the story of Kersten’s life gives us a new way of viewing the history of the Second World War, one that goes beyond the simple idea of heroes and villains.
Hugest thanks to Elliott & Thompson for sending me a copy to review, I’m extremely grateful.
This book utterly blew my mind! It is the absolutely astonishing true story of Dr Felix Kersten, a Finnish Physician, who was introduced to Heinrich Himmler and was able to treat Himmler’s chronic stomach disorder throughout the Second World War in Germany.
Dr Felix Kersten was a rotund, gentle man who learnt his kraft of Chinese Style massage from Dr Ko, who took him on as a student because he saw the potential in his hands. He studied under him and inherited his practice and became a very sought-after Dr, who could cure all ailments with his miraculous hands.
The book reads like a thriller and had me absolutely gripped, I just could not put it down – the fact that I had never heard this story and how this mild-mannered, polite and jovial Dr Kersten managed to treat Himmler and then, in Himmler’s most vulnerable moments when he was in so much pain, and the only person that could alleviate that pain was Kersten, Dr Kersten was able to manipulate Himmler by playing to his ego, and in doing so saved the lives of many thousands of Jews and other prisoners. he was able to document his meetings with the Reichsfuhrer, and keep them so that in the years after the war Joseph Kessel met him and questioned him about these interactions that happened right in the Devils lair, inside Nazi Germany, indeed inside SS headquarters. And as I’ve said the tale is absolutely extraordinary!
The Man With The Miraculous Hands is an exceptionally well-written book, and I loved the way it felt like a thriller, the tension I felt reading about the events with Himmler and Dr Kersten and the goings on inside Nazi Germany, the thinking of one of the most heinous men in history – Himmler and all the paranoia that was felt by him and Dr Kersten, reads so well – when you think it’s true it is almost mind-blowing!
I have to rate this book with 5 stars, I really like reading about both World Wars and find novels or factual accounts from the German side very interesting. I whizzed through this book in a couple of days! If you like to learn about historical facts and are interested in WW2 this will be a must-read for you.
You can buy The Man With The Miraculous Hands HERE
You can find more books at Elliott & Thompson’s website HERE
1947. Elinor White, known locally as ‘the White lady’, is living a solitary, quiet life in a grace-and-favour cottage in the Kent countryside. Unbeknownst to her neighbours, she is the veteran of two world wars, a trained killer and a former intelligence agent.
Yet Elinor’s private and seemingly tranquil existence conceals a past trauma that comes to the fore when she is drawn into the predicament of a local man entangled with one of the most dangerous crime families in London.
A treacherous path lies ahead, but it may be one that ultimately leads Elinor to a future unshackled by her own painful history.
Thank you so much to the wonderful Allison & Busby for gifting me a copy of The White Lady.
I’d never heard of Jaqueline Winspear before seeing this book, But I’m so glad I have now!
The White Lady is a riveting and gripping thriller set just after the second world war in the UK, in 1947. We meet Miss Elinor White, who lives a very quiet life in the countryside and keeps herself to herself- her nickname is “The White Lady”. However, she has a fabulous past – a veteran of WW1 and WW2, a trained killer and an ex-spy!
This novel starts with events in 1947 then through Elinor’s eyes we travel back in time to WW1 and her childhood when she was living in Belgium, we find out how Elinor and her family helped to fight the Germans during the first world war years before fleeing to England and then taking up arms again during WW2.
I loved The White Lady, it is written in such a way that it was an easy read. It is a bit like a girl’s own adventure with the events that Elinor White gets up to, but it is written with a nod to history and all those women who worked for or were killed working for the Special Operations Executive during the second world war. Jaqueline Winspear has managed to write a fabulous fast-paced thriller with authentic characters and the plots are brilliant, I could not put it down! The descriptions of the settings during both wars were fantastic and vividly written.
The ending is quite a climax and it’s left in such a way that I hope there will be a follow-up novel!.
A great read, thrilling and addictive – 5 stars from me.
You can follow Jaqueline Winspear on her FACEBOOK page
For years, Reagan Carsen has kept her life offline. No socials. No internet presence. No photos. Safe.
Until the day she stumbles on a shocking murder in a Sydney laneway. The victim looks just like her. Coincidence?
As more murders shake the city and she’s increasingly drawn out from hiding, Reagan is forced to confront her greatest fear.
She’s been found.
A riveting psychological thriller drawn from true events, Dark Mode delves into the terrifying reality of the dark web, and the price we pay for surrendering our privacy one click at a time.
Firstly, huge thanks to James at Ultimo Press Uk for sending me a proof copy of Dark Mode.
I happened to see a post on Instagram from someone saying how brilliant Dark Mode was, so off i went to read the blurb…well as soon as i read it and saw that stunning cover i just knew this would be a bookbanger, and i was SO right!
The opening chapter sees us meet Reagan Carsen having a morning jog thru Sydney only to stumble across a dismembered body, left in full view in a lane…and strangely the body looks a lot like her!
And then Dark Mode just picks up a gear and runs! This is an absolutely exceptional novel, the writing is clear and flows like a silk scarf over your shoulders, it is sublime.
We travel thru the story with Reagan, who has kept her life offline for a pretty valid reason, up until now. She meets a nice chap called Bryce when she drives into the back of his car, and they start a freindship. With him, she becomes more trusting and gets a mobile phone, and in an effort to help kickstart her ailing Garden Centre, Voodo Lily Garden centre, Bryce helps her to post online photos of the plants and start an Instagram account, as she needs to start paying back the banks loan things start to pick up. BUT, and it is a big but, so do weird things, unsettling, chilling things start happening to Raegan and bodies start to appear and things get very very dark and heart-stoppingly bad for Raegan.
I am not going to give any more away about Dark Mode, but this will be one of THE books of 2023, it is a stunner! The attention to detail that Ms Bunt has written about the plants in the fictional Voodo Lilly Garden Centre is just marvelous (even for someone who is not Greenfingers like me!) … it had me googling to see what they actually looked like, although descriptions were precise and it was easy to visualise them. Add in the story of the Black Dahlia Murders from the 1930s and you have a near-perfect crime thriller. If like me you a lover of true crime as wellas the fictional type, then Dark Mode is going to tick all your boxes!
I cannot say enough about how brilliant a novel Dark Mode is, I was gripped, I was riveted, and I had my heart in my mouth! I bloody loved it! This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while! And I must also say that the cover art is absolutely spot on and gorgeous!
A 5-star read and if I could give more I would! Jude says its a BOOKBANGER!!
A mother disappears from a busy festival on a warm spring night.
Her baby lies alone in the pram, her mother’s possessions surrounding her, waiting for a return which never comes.
A year later, Kim Gillespie’s absence still casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather to welcome a new addition to the family.
Joining the celebrations on a rare break from work is federal investigator Aaron Falk, who begins to suspect that all is not as it seems.
As he looks into Kim’s case, long-held secrets and resentments begin to come to the fore, secrets that show that her community is not as close as it appears.
Falk will have to tread carefully if he is to expose the dark fractures at its heart, but sometimes it takes an outsider to get to the truth. . .
An outstanding novel, a brilliant mystery and a heart-pounding read from the author of The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man and The Survivors.
As a huge fan of Jane Harper’s work, I couldn’t wait to get into the latest Aaron Falk novel, Exiles.
This one is slightly different to all the others, it is a slower burn but that’s because we are following the events of Aaron Falk’s life much more closely. There are also running in the background two monumental events that rock the community that Aaron finds himself drawn to. The skill that Jane Harper writes about small-town life in the outback of Australia is so sublime, it makes you feel like you are really there, with the huge views and sights and smells of the bushland.
The story is really very good and I must say it’s actually quite nice to find a book concentrating on the effects of mysterious deaths on the relatives that are left behind. Jane Harper has managed to convey this extremely well in Exiles. The plot is medium paced but all along you can feel that something is bubbling along and when we do get the climactic ending, it’s a mindblower and I did not guess until the very last minute what the outcome would be!
So my rating overall for Exiles will be a 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read, I am a committed Jane Harper fan, and I adore these outback novels. If you want a gripping read that is deep with emotion and with an undercurrent of an edgy thriller then Exiles will be the novel for you.
Jen is climbing in the mountains near Alajar, Spain. And it’s nothing to do with the fact that an old acquaintance, Nick Crawford, may have suggested that she meet him there...
But when things don’t go as planned with Nick and her brother calls to voice concerns over the whereabouts of Morwenna – their estranged, free-spirited mother – Jen winds up travelling to a refugee camp on the south coast of Malta.
Morwenna is working with a small non-governmental organization to help her Libyan friend, Nahla, seek asylum for herself and her two young children. Jen is instantly out of her depth, surrounded by stories of unimaginable suffering and increasing tensions within the camp. Then Nahla recognises someone else from Libya – and ends up dead later that same day.
Jen and Morwenna find themselves responsible for the safety of Nahla’s daughters. But what if the safest thing to do is to get in a boat?
Judefire33 Star rating 4.5 Stars
Firstly Thank you so much to Verve books for inviting me to the Blog Tour and sending me a copy of Cut Adrift.
Cut Adrift carries on where On The Edge finished, in that Jen Shaw is now in Spain, resting and recuperating after the adventures and danger she met in the first novel, in Cornwall.
Cut Adrift starts slowly with Jen deciding to have some fun climbing and travelling in her hired camper van, however, her last lover has sent her a mysterious postcard and asked her to meet her in a bar in Alajar by simply saying “wish you were here”, after some internal struggles Jen decides to go and see if Nick Grimshaw will be waiting for her. What follows is a time of fun, and romance for them both, before this is shattered by Nick having to leave immediately for work and also the news that Jen’s Mum, Morwenna needs to be contacted as her husband (Jen’s Dad) is going to sell the family home, Tregonna in Cornwall and the only one to stop it is Morwenna. The last she was heard of she was in Malta, so Jen makes for malta hoping to find her Mum and talk her into going to a solicitor and stopping the sale of their beloved home.
From then on Cut Adrift picks up the pace as we enter a world (that is extremely well-written and researched) of refugees. Jen and her Mum get caught up in a terrible round of events, including the murder of Nahla, Morwenna’s refugee friend. They are then thrown into a dangerous world and have to fight and run with Nahla’s two children, from people traffickers, killers and terrorists all of who want nothing more than to use the children in the most abhorrent way possible, from this pit on Cut Adrift is an anxiety-ridden ride and one that kept me up at night.
The plot and storyline are very well written, and I was totally hooked into the world unknown to me but that read so realistic of refugees and the dangers they face even when we think they are in Europe and safe. A terrible journey that they face from leaving their home countries, to getting to a safe country where they will be looked after and not become a target for criminals of all sorts.
The concluding chapters were super fast-paced and I was totally immersed, Jane Jesmond has done well to write with such clarity of the fear and anxiety that these poor people face, and entwining this into the lives of Jen Shaw and her Mum Morwenna, is brilliant. Their fight to save and bring two traumatized little girls back to Cornwall is truly heroic and full of danger at every turn, they don’t know who to trust!
The ending was brilliant, but you know, Ik not giving anything away! The writing is beautiful at times with the descriptions of the places we travel to in Cut Adrift. And there are some scary and visceral scenes on the high seas in a yacht, that for me triggered my PTSD (I had to leave a cruise as I was so frightened after being in Force 9 seas), but although this was difficult for me, it’s down to the excellent writing of Jane Jesmond that made me relive it!
An enthralling, tense, adventure and thrilling read hence my score of 4.5 stars.
All Detective Constable Edward Reekie had to do was pick up a dying prisoner from HMP Grampian and deliver him somewhere to live out his last few months in peace.
From the outside, Glenfarach looks like a quaint, sleepy, snow-dusted village, nestled deep in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, but things aren’t what they seem. The place is thick with security cameras and there’s a strict nine o’clock curfew because Glenfarach is the final sanctuary for people who’ve served their sentences but can’t be safely released into the general population.
Edward’s new boss, DI Victoria Montgomery-Porter, insists they head back to Aberdeen before the approaching blizzards shut everything down, but when an ex-cop-turned-gangster is discovered tortured to death in his bungalow, someone needs to take charge.
The weather’s closing in, tensions are mounting, and time’s running out – something nasty has come to Glenfarach, and Edward is standing right in its way…
Judefire33 rating for The Dead Of Winter
Firstly thank you so so much to Transworld books for sending me a proof copy of The Dead Of Winter.
Now I am a huge fan of Stuart MacBride, and absolutely adore his Logan MacRae novels, however in recent years Stuart has been writing more standalone novels, and The Dead Of Winter is one.
This is a bloody fabulous novel, this is Stuart MacBride back to the absolute top of his game and what he does best. From chapter one we are sent on a rollercoaster thrill ride, with Stuart’s normal dark humor and gritty realism, and this is by far one of his best novels since the Logan MacRae series. I read it at breakneck speed and laughed so much!
Our two main stars are Detective Constable Edward Reekie and his boss, Detective Inspector Victoria Mongomery-Porter, the opening chapter is a scene on a freezing day somewhere in the snowy woods in Scotland. It would appear that DC Edward Reekie is being buried in a shallow grave in the cold ground and that grave is being dug by none other than DI Victoria aka Bigtoria Montgomery-Porter….and that my dear followers, is the absurd setting that starts The Dead Of Winter.
From then on you will be taken thru an exceptional cast of characters who all live in the small sleepy quaint hamlet of Glenfarach….and no it’s not really an ordinary place as it’s full of rapists, gangsters, and murderers. There are security cameras everywhere here like big bugs in the sky stalking everyone as there is nowhere to hide. All the residents have their own little homes and all are electronically tagged and subject to a 9 pm curfew… sounds like a safe place right? Wrong, the fast-paced writing of Stuart Macbride takes you through an almost comedic set of murders and events that draw to a brilliant ending.
I absolutely raced through The Dead Of Winter and i love love loved it! The writing style that Stuart MacBride has is unique in the crime fiction genre, others try to do something similar but no one can write like Stuart MacBride does. The aplomb, that he writes murder and gruesomeness in one sentence and then sarcastic humor in another is exceptional. Having myself, worked for the Police for 12 years in the 1990s, I’m well aware of the dark humor used in extreme situations to lift the pressure, Stuart writes that in such a realistic way it’s superb.
This is a real gem of a novel, and in my opinion, Stuart Macbride’s best for many years, if you like gritty, dark, Scottish crime fiction with a dose of really dark humor thrown in then you need to rush down to the bookshop, and buy The Dead Of Winter, you won’t be disappointed.
After her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Billie Levine revamped her grandfather’s private investigation firm and set up shop in the corner booth of her favourite North Jersey deli hoping the free pickles and flexible hours would allow her to take care of her mom and pay the bills. So when Tommy Russo, a rich kid with a nasty drug habit, offers her a stack of cash to find his missing girlfriend, how can she refuse? At first, Billie thinks this will be easy earnings, but then her missing person’s case turns into a murder investigation and Russo is the detective bureau’s number one suspect.
Suddenly Billie is embroiled in a deadly gang war that’s connected to the decades-old disappearance of a famous cabaret dancer with ties to both an infamous Jewish mob and a skinhead group. Toss in the reappearance of Billie’s hunky ex-boyfriend with his own rap sheet, and she is regretting every decision that got her to this point.
Becoming a P.I. was supposed to solve her problems. But if Billie doesn’t crack this case, the next body the police dredge out of the Hudson River will be hers.
Firstly kind thanks to Caroline at Datura Books for kindly sending me a copy of Death of a Dancing Queen.
From the very first chapter of Death of A Dancing Queen, I was hooked! The novel opens with a brutal murder in 1991, that sets the scene for a gritty, smart and dark thriller that had me absolutely gripped.
Billie Levine is a Private Investigator working for her grandfather’s Agency, she’s not qualified yet but that does not put her off. When she is hired by a local gangster to help find evidence to defend his son Tommy, whose girlfriend was found murdered in a garage where he works, Billie throws herself into the investigation.
I adored Billie, she is tough, smart and at times funny! Her powers of investigation are excellent and she comes across as a natural investigator, her mind just works that way. She gets herself into danger during the investigation and there are some hairy moments, and throughout all of this, we have the background of her and her Brother David trying to care for their Mum who has Early Onset Alzheimers. I loved that in Death Of A Dancing Queen we got to see Billie in her home life and the struggles of looking after someone with Alzheimer’s encounters, it is very well researched and really sat extremely well with the rest of the novel.
The cast of characters was superbly well written, Kim Giarratano is obviously someone who studies people as she has been able to bring a great cast to life within the pages. I did at times find it a little confusing, but I went back and actually write the characters down which helped me, this is not a criticism as it’s probably just me!
There are lots of references to the Jewish faith and culture, as Billie’s family are Jewish, and I found this very interesting, I learnt a lot, which I always find a bonus when reading a novel.
I loved Death Of A Dancing Queen, the way it’s written is almost like one of those old 1950s crime movies I used to watch on a Saturday Afternoon with my mum, but there are emotional scenes and humour thrown in as well. This was a totally refreshing read and a novel that stands out in the crime fiction genre.
A fabulous 5 stars from me, and I cannot wait for book 2!
ON THE TOUGHEST REALITY SHOW ON TELEVISION A KILLER IS HIDING OUT OF SHOT
Frozen Out is set to be a TV sensation. On a small ship off the coast of Greenland, eight contestants will push themselves to breaking point for a £100,000 prize.
The show is Tori Matsuka’s baby. After years working her way up the ladder, she’s finally launching her own production company with Frozen Out, and the late nights, the debts, the strain on her relationship will all be worthwhile. Everything is riding on the next twelve days. For camerawoman Dee, it’s a chance to start again after the tragedy that tanked her undercover journalism career. Not even Tori, her oldest friend, knows the full truth of why Dee left her previous job, and she plans to keep it that way.
But as errors and mishaps mount on set, tempers among the cast and crew start to fray. And when one of the contestants is found dead, only Dee realises the death wasn’t natural – and from what she’s seen from behind the camera, it won’t be the last. As the Arctic ice closes in around them and all chance of escape is cut off, it becomes clear that although the world outside wants them dead, it’s the secrets inside the ship that might cost them their lives.
Packed with suspense from the first page to the last, Freeze is a must-read for fans of Shiver, The Sanatorium and One By One. This thriller isn’t just chilling: it’s sub-zero.
Judefire33 star rating for Freeze
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Firstly huge thanks to Robert Greer for very kindly sending me a copy of Freeze.
When I saw the cover of Freeze, I just knew this would be a book for me….isn’t it strange that! Well, I finally got around to reading Freeze at the weekend and here are my thoughts.
From the opening prologue, you can feel the tension in Kate Simants writing virtually crackle off the pages! We start with a scene in the past that involves a boy and a girl and an event that with every turn and decision the girl makes in the future, it ripples outwards and affects her and others’ lives.
This will be a hard review to write as I am loath to give any of the plots away, but the setting is a reality-type show – think I’m a celebrity get me out of here but set on a ship in the Arctic Circle so that the elements are already part of the dangers that contestants face without tasks thrown in as well!.
The setting is superb, its bleak, empty and its bloody cold (I know I’ve been inside the Artic Circle in Winter!), and the ship that they are on is immensely claustrophobic and with the tensions that arise from the cast of characters this just sizzles and as a reader, I was utterly gripped and almost couldn’t read fast enough!
The cast of characters is fantastic a great mixture, that as the novel goes on, opens up and reveals things central to the plot -some are lovely and I wanted to be their pals, some are horrid and I hated them! But I loved the way we get each chapter from the two main protagonists of Dee and Tori, the writing of Freeze is truly slick and I found it so easy to gorge myself on the chapters, and I read Freeze over 3 days.
The climax was thrilling and had my palms sweating and my internal voice shouting! Freeze is a really well-written thriller, I found it an easy and quick read, but the story is full and complex, I just gorged myself on it!
If you like locked-room-style thrillers, and books set in snowy ice-laden landscapes that will chill and thrill you with a splatter of creepiness thrown in then Freeze needs to be on your radar to purchase.
A superbly written chilling thriller, my rating 5 stars.
A crash. Books fall to the speckled linoleum floor. They skid a few feet, whirling in circles, and stop near feet. My feet. I don’t recognize the black sandals, or the red toenails, but they move when I tell them to, so they must be mine. Right?
A bell rings. Shrill.
I jump, my heart racing. My eyes move left to right as I scope out my environment, trying not to give myself away.
What kind of bell was that? Where am I?
Kids with backpacks walk briskly into the room, talking and laughing. A school bell. They slide into desks, their voices competing in volume. I see movement at my feet and jerk in surprise. Someone is bent over, gathering up books on the floor; a red-faced girl with glasses. Before she stands up, she looks at me with something like fear and then scurries off. People are laughing. When I look around I think they’re laughing at me, but it’s the girl with glasses they’re looking at.
“Charlie!” someone calls. “Didn’t you see that?” And then, “Charlie…what’s your problem…hello…?”
My heart is beating fast, so fast.
Where is this? Why can’t I remember? “Charlie!” someone hisses. I look around. Who is Charlie? Which one is Charlie?
There are so many kids; blond hair, ratty hair, brown hair, glasses, no glasses…
A man walks in carrying a briefcase. He sets it on the desk.
The teacher. I am in a classroom, and that is the teacher. High school or college? I wonder.
I stand up suddenly. I’m in the wrong place. Everyone is sitting, but I’m standing…walking.
“Where are you going, Miss Wynwood?” The teacher is looking at me over the rim of his glasses as he riffles through a pile of papers. He slaps them down hard on the desk and I jump. I must be Miss Wynwood.
“She has cramps!” someone calls out. People snicker. I feel a chill creep up my back and crawl across the tops of my arms. They’re laughing at me, except I don’t know who these people are.
I hear a girl’s voice say, “Shut up, Michael.”
“I don’t know,” I say, hearing my voice for the first time. It’s too high. I clear my throat and try again. “I don’t know. I’m not supposed to be here.”
There is more laughing. I glance around at the posters on the wall, the faces of presidents animated with dates beneath them. History class? High school.
The man—the teacher—tilts his head to the side like I’ve said the dumbest thing. “And where else are you supposed to be on test day?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Sit down,” he says. I don’t know where I’d go if I left. I turn around to go back. The girl with the glasses glances up at me as I pass her. She looks away almost as quickly.
As soon as I’m sitting, the teacher starts handing out
papers. He walks between desks, his voice a flat drone as he tells us what percentage of our final grade the test will be. When he reaches my desk he pauses, a deep crease between his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull.” He presses the tip of a fat pointer finger on my desk.
“Whatever it is, I’m sick of it. One more stunt and I’m sending you to the principal’s office.” He slaps the test down in front of me and moves down the line.
I don’t nod, I don’t do anything. I’m trying to decide what to do. Announce to the whole room that I have no idea who and where I am—or pull him aside and tell him quietly. He said no more stunts. My eyes move to the paper in front of me. People are already bent over their tests, pencils scratching.
There is a space for a name. I’m supposed to write my name, but I don’t know what my name is. Miss Wynwood, he called me.
Why don’t I recognize my own name? Or where I am?
Or what I am?
Every head is bent over their papers except mine. So I sit and stare, straight ahead. Mr. Dulcott glares at me from his desk. The longer I sit, the redder his face becomes.
Time passes and yet my world has stopped. Eventually, Mr. Dulcott stands up, his mouth open to say something to me when the bell rings. “Put your papers on my desk on the way out,” he says, his eyes still on my face. Everyone is filing out of the door. I stand up and follow them because I don’t know what else to do. I keep my eyes on the floor, but I can feel his rage. I don’t understand why he’s so angry with me. I am in a hallway now, lined on either side by blue lockers.
“Charlie!” someone calls. “Charlie, wait up!” A second later, an arm loops through mine. I expect it to be the girl with the glasses; I don’t know why. It’s not. But, I know now that I am Charlie. Charlie Wynwood. “You forgot your bag,” she says, handing over a white backpack. I take it from her, wondering if there’s a wallet with a driver’s license inside. She keeps her arm looped through mine as we walk. She’s shorter than me, with long, dark hair and dewy brown eyes that take up half her face. She is startling and beautiful.
“Why were you acting so weird in there?” she asks. “You knocked the shrimp’s books on the floor and then spaced out.”
I can smell her perfume; it’s familiar and too sweet, like a million flowers competing for attention. I think of the girl with the glasses, the look on her face as she bent to scoop up her books. If I did that, why don’t I remember?
“It’s lunch, why are you walking that way?” She pulls me down a different corridor, past more students. They all look at me…little glances. I wonder if they know me, and why I don’t know me. I don’t know why I don’t tell her, tell Mr. Dulcott, grab someone random and tell them that I don’t know who or where I am. By the time I’m seriously entertaining the idea, we’re through a set of double doors in the cafeteria. Noise and color; bodies that all have a unique smell, bright fluorescent lights that make everything look ugly. Oh, God. I clutch at my shirt.
The girl on my arm is babbling. Andrew this, Marcy that. She likes Andrew and hates Marcy. I don’t know who either of them is. She corrals me to the food line. We get salad and Diet Cokes. Then we are sliding our trays on a table. There are already people sitting there: four boys, two girls. I realize we are completing a group with even numbers. All the girls are matched with a guy. Everyone looks up at me expectantly, like I’m supposed to say something, do something. The only place left to sit is next to a guy with dark hair. I sit slowly, both hands flat on the table. His eyes dart toward me and then he bends over his tray of food. I can see the finest beads of sweat on his forehead, just below his hairline.
“You two are so awkward sometimes,” says a new girl, blonde, across from me. She’s looking from me to the guy I’m sitting next to. He looks up from his macaroni and I realize he’s just moving things around on his plate. He hasn’t taken a bite, despite how busy he looks. He looks at me and I look at him, then we both look back at the blonde girl.
“Did something happen that we should know about?” she asks. “No,” we say in unison.
He’s my boyfriend. I know by the way they’re treating us. He suddenly smiles at me with his brilliantly white teeth and reaches to put an arm around my shoulders.
“We’re all good,” he says, squeezing my arm. I automatically stiffen, but when I see the six sets of eyes on my face, I lean in and play along. It’s frightening not knowing who you are—even more frightening thinking you’ll get it wrong. I’m scared now, really scared. It’s gone too far. If I say something now I’ll look…crazy. His affection seems to make everyone relax. Everyone except…him. They go back to talking, but all the words blend together: football, a party, more football. The guy sitting next to me laughs and joins in with their conversation, his arm never straying from my shoulders. They call him Silas. They call me Charlie. The dark-haired girl with the big eyes is Annika. I forget everyone else’s names in the noise.
Lunch is finally over and we all get up. I walk next to Silas, or rather he walks next to me. I have no idea where I’m going. Annika flanks my free side, winding her arms through mine and chatting about cheerleading practice. She’s making me feel claustrophobic. When we reach an annex in the hallway, I lean over and speak to her so only she can hear. “Can you walk me to my next class?” Her face becomes serious. She breaks away to say something to her boyfriend, and then our arms are looped again.
I turn to Silas. “Annika is going to walk me to my next class.”
“Okay,” he says. He looks relieved. “I’ll see you…later.” He heads off in the opposite direction.
Annika turns to me as soon as he’s out of sight. “Where’s he going?”
I shrug. “To class.”
She shakes her head like she’s confused. “I don’t get you guys. One day you’re all over each other, the next you’re acting like you can’t stand to be in the same room. You really need to make a decision about him, Charlie.”
She stops outside a doorway.
“This is me…” I say, to see if she’ll protest. She doesn’t. “Call me later,” she says. “I want to know about last night.”
I nod. When she disappears into the sea of faces, I step into the classroom. I don’t know where to sit, so I wander to the back row and slide into a seat by the window. I’m early, so I open my backpack. There’s a wallet wedged between a couple of notebooks and a makeup bag. I pull it out and flip it open to reveal a driver’s license with a picture of a beaming, dark-haired girl. Me.
Charlize Margaret Wynwood
2417 Holcourt Way
New Orleans, LA
I’m seventeen. My birthday is March twenty-first. I live in Louisiana. I study the picture in the top left corner and I don’t recognize the face. It’s my face, but I’ve never seen it. I’m…pretty. I only have twenty-eight dollars.
The seats are filling up. The one beside me stays empty, almost like everyone is too afraid to sit there. I’m in Spanish class. The teacher is pretty and young; her name is Mrs. Cardona. She doesn’t look at me like she hates me, like so many other people are looking at me. We start with tenses.
I have no past. I have no past.
Five minutes into class the door opens. Silas walks in, his eyes downcast. I think he’s here to tell me something, or to bring me something. I brace myself, ready to pretend, but Mrs. Cardona comments jokingly about his lateness. He takes the only available seat next to me and stares straight ahead. I stare at him. I don’t stop staring at him until finally, he turns his head to look at me. A line of sweat rolls down the side of his face.