Saturday, November 07, 2015

Outstanding International Drama, MRS. JOHN DOE, Tom Savage

I'm not sure booksellers should ever feel at home with the idea of an "e-book original." There is something a bit frightening about the notion of a book that may never have pages or covers. It's a soul in need of a body.

So I hope that Alibi/Random House will soon move from e-version to physical book for the latest from New York City author Tom Savage. Author of six suspense novels and two mysteries (the mysteries are under the name T. J. Phillips), Savage calls himself the Mystery Man, and worked for years at the quintessential mystery shop Murder Ink, as well as being an actor.

With MRS. JOHN DOE, he neatly turns the classic espionage plot inside out: Nora Baron is enjoying and appreciating her upscale Long Island home, just before she gets the phone call that any spouse dreads --"I'm so sorry, Nora. It's -- it's Jeff. He's been in an accident. He's dead."
She heard the words, and they registered; she understood. Something happened inside her, a sudden feeling that she was on a stage, and they were speaking lines that had been written by a playwright. She gripped the receiver carefully in her hand and spoke slowly, distinctly, so that the audience could hear.
It will be many chapters before we understand what that stage image means to Nora. She's headed right away to England, to make identification of her husband's body -- delayed because he'd been without ID, hence a "John Doe." She's quick to decide: It's necessary. On the plane, she suspects for a while that she's being watched. And moments after she makes the critical corpse identification, so that cremation can be done, a personal message and a warning arrive. From friends of her husband? Colleagues? What she knows about his life, its secrets, its shadows, is barely enough to guide her first reactions. An attack in the notorious London fog sends her racing to continental Europe, to discover what complications have thrown her life into such upheaval -- and why Jeff has left such messages for her to follow.

Savage twists the plot in two startling ways, and Nora's transformation from wealthy home-focused wife to clever investigator holds up brilliantly. There may not be many mystery fans today familiar with The Scarlet Pimpernel, but still, MRS. JOHN DOE begs the comparison with that early novel in which a woman shows unsuspected pluck and skill at racing after her husband's politically fraught and dangerous shadow. I enjoyed each page, gasped at the swift twists, and came away with a hunger for more of the same, whether it be thrills, France, or ... books by Tom Savage. Author website here.

Fingers crossed, please, that the book gets its body ASAP.


Tom Savage said...

Thank you for your lovely words, Beth, and also for saying it should be a "real" book as well as an ebook. I'm going to casually slip this review under my editor's nose. And yes, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fave of mine and an inspiration for Mrs. John Doe, along with North By Northwest, The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré, James Grady's Six Days of the Condor, and the complete works of Helen MacInnes. Thanks again, and all best with your bookshop.

Beth Kanell said...

Hurrah! Great to know some of your faves, and inspiration. You've made a terrific espionage-turned-inside-out thriller here. Looking forward to more.