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AMBER LOVE 11-JUN-2018 My work is supported by the generous backers at Patreon.com/amberunmasked who appreciate my reviews and my stories; and they also get first access to what’s happening with my books and podcast. Also, I’m an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my personal recommendations and buy my books with these handy links below:

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This review is provided by NetGalley. Believe Me will be available from Ballantine Books on July 24, 2018.

Author J.P. Delaney (no relation to me) provided some history of the book that became Believe Me. It was a different story about an actress going undercover for a sting operation for law enforcement. It was with a different publisher and now out of print. The core premise stuck with Delaney, so after success with what others consider his big break novel, The Girl Before, he went back to the roots of that old story and rewrote it from scratch.

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Believe Me is the first of Delaney’s books that I’ve read so I don’t have any other baseline for comparison. In a nutshell: it’s fast-paced, exhilarating, filled with twists, and some graphic details that might put off certain readers. (*Note: if you like the graphic content of shows like BONES or CRIMINAL MINDS, this is along those lines.)

Claire Wright is a British actor trying to make her way into the industry in America. She’s doing so illegally and having a difficult time obtaining the proper kind of acting jobs to secure a green card or visa. At the start, readers might like Claire. She’s a survivor and struggling to get by in New York City. To make any money at all, she works as a honeypot bait — a private investigator, Henry, hires her to see if husbands are cheating on their wives. In this capacity, readers get to see that Claire has to follow a strict set of rules. She can’t be the one to approach the men; she can’t make the offer for sex; she stops the job before there’s any physical contact. Then she gets paid and usually moves on to the next case. Understanding that Claire is capable of following rules is important as she begins to unravel throughout the story.

Stella Fogler hires Henry and Claire, but her job offer comes with dark and terrifying warnings:

“You will be careful, won’t you? Promise me you’ll be careful. He’s like no man you’ve ever met. I mean it. Don’t turn your back on him. Don’t trust him. Do you promise?”

Claire thinks Stella is being dramatic and too paranoid. She’s been taking care of herself since she was a kid from an abusive family and moved through foster care. Unlike escorts, Claire is determined to be the best actor possible. To do that, Claire uses The Method approach to acting. It’s where the actor goes beyond researching a role and actually lives as the character, never breaking.

Claire is approached by Detective Frank Durban and Dr. Kathryn Latham, a forensic psychologist. Latham has been tracking a serial killer who fits the profile of Patrick Fogler, Stella’s husband. He’s a handsome poetry scholar specializing in the work of Baudelaire. When Stella is gruesomely murdered in a pattern matching the details of one of Baudelaire’s poems, Claire takes the assignment lest she become a suspect herself as one of the last people to see Stella alive.

The story is outrageous in all the ways amateur detective stories are. Readers know the FBI or NYPD aren’t going to take some untrained civilian and put her in harm’s way like Claire is hired. That’s neither here nor there. You go with it on a bloody and twisted ride. There are sections where Claire replays events and readers don’t get prose paragraphs; the memories and sometimes completely irrational pondering by Claire are typed out like a screenplay. The book is also broken down clearly into three parts following the traditional three acts of a play or movie lending more to the presentation regarding Claire always being in character.

Claire becomes such an unreliable narrator that readers will be wondering how much of the threats against her are all in her head. She’s institutionalized at the end of part two. It seemed like it could have ended there: Claire is suffering from an extreme histrionic dissociative episode and she can’t escape her own mind. Part three reveals why she continued to stay in character the whole time. Latham’s profile of the serial killer states that Claire would have to appear so vulnerable that the prime suspect, Patrick, would be the only possible savior. Having inherited Stella’s money, Patrick has the financial resources to hire a private doctor and lawyers to save Claire.

“In other words, maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe I’m just the kind of woman who male doctors historically haven’t liked very much.” — Claire Wright

By chapter thirty-three, it’s clear that Claire has developed real feelings for Patrick. She admits to liking him and eventually she does fall in love with him. This may be the point where every feminist reader thinks the book is more sexual fantasy crap written by a man. Stay the course. Get to the end. It’s all about method acting and how difficult it is for the Real Claire to separate herself from the Character Claire.

When Claire needs to feel alive, she goes head first into danger with Patrick. They play constant destructive, abusive games with each other while at the same time professing it’s all about trust.

“Not because discovering Patrick’s a murderer would stop me loving him. But because, if he is a murderer, I don’t want him to keep it hidden from me.” — Claire Wright

Again, I say stick with it. Claire has plenty of flashbacks to acting class where her instructor discusses making emotions real and believable. The bottom line is Claire is the ultimate survivor. Readers may not agree with her methods and processes at all, but she manages to be as unkillable as an 1980’s action hero.

Besides the fiction of law enforcement hiring an unemployed actor to go undercover, there’s only one other note I made. A silly one: absinthe doesn’t contain hallucinogens. It is delicious and gets you extremely drunk. If you like the taste of licorice, I highly recommend having some served properly. It comes in green and white varieties and is not illegal.

I don’t know if the real Charles Baudelaire is as fucked up as the one presented by Delaney, who admits that he took plenty of artistic license in translating the French poetry. The character of Baudelaire has religious followers who share photographs of the murders they’ve committed through a portal on the Dark Web behind a site called Necropolis. The theme in using horrific translations of Baudelaire comes down to what responsibility artists bear in the real world if someone is inspired by their work to commit crimes.

“What responsibility do we have, as artists, for the effect our work has in the real world?” a theater director asks of Patrick Fogler regarding his play about Baudelaire.

Since I haven’t read Gone Girl or other psychological thrillers (I’m admittedly too scared most of the time), I can honestly say Believe Me has its share of mindfucks which I think is what authors of this genre intend.

Content Notes:

  • Graphic violence against women including women of color.
  • Suicide attempts and self-harm.
  • Psychiatric institutional scenes including heavy medication.

Rating: 4.5 stars (brilliantly executed, but is definitely not for everyone)4 and a half star rating

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