Desert Isle Keeper
If You Knew Her
What if you were trapped inside your body, fully able to take in the world around you, but unable to communicate with anyone? What if you had knowledge of a serious crime, but no way to make anyone aware of what you knew? If these are questions you’ve ever found yourself pondering, Emily Elgar’s If You Knew Her, a tensely-plotted thriller that takes place on a ward for coma patients, is exactly the book you need to read.
Cassie Jensen is the victim of a hit-and-run accident that has left her comatose. The police ask all the necessary questions, but no one, including her husband and mother-in-law, admits to seeing or knowing anything about what prompted Cassie to be walking alone on a deserted road in the dark, and so, the case is growing cold fast. When Cassie is brought onto the intensive care ward at St. Catherine’s Hospital, she comes into contact with head nurse Alice and fellow patient Frank, two people whose lives she’ll touch in unimaginable ways.
Most people think Alice leads a normal, if boring, life. Maybe she works too much, but her work keeps her mind off her inability to carry a child to term, something she and her husband want desperately. Her co-workers like her well enough, her superiors respect her competence and good sense and the families of her patients find her warm and compassionate, the perfect person to care for their loved ones. So, Alice’s life may not be everything she hoped it would be, but she’s getting on with it, and really, she supposes that’s all anyone can ask for.
From the moment Alice lays eyes on Cassie, she has the feeling she’s seen her before. At first, she can’t imagine how their paths could have crossed, but, as time passes, she comes to recognize Cassie as the star of a television commercial that had been popular some years earlier. She finds herself fascinated by the younger woman, and her feeling of fascination only increases when medical tests reveal that unbeknownst to anyone – including her husband – Cassie is several months pregnant. Suddenly, Alice becomes obsessed with Cassie and her care, determined that mother and child will survive, even as Cassie’s condition worsens and doctors begin preparing her loved ones to make a heart-wrenching choice.
From a nearby bed, Frank observes the comings and goings on the ward. Doctors have decided he’s in a persistent vegetative state, and there’s no way for him to clue anyone into the fact that he sees and hears everything going on around him. Alice once believed there was hope for him, but, as her focus narrows almost exclusively to Cassie, even she seems to have given up on Frank. But Frank is the only one who is aware that Cassie’s life is in danger. Someone is intent on finishing what they started on that deserted country road, and if Frank isn’t able to make someone pay attention to him, they just might succeed.
The story is told from the points of view of Alice, Frank, and Cassie. Frank and Alice take turns narrating present-day events, while Cassie’s chapters show us the events leading up to her accident. Although I enjoyed spending time in the heads of all three characters, I found myself drawn most to Frank’s chapters, as I’m fascinated by the condition known as Locked In Syndrome. I’m no expert, but Ms. Elgar’s depiction of the condition has a very authentic feel.
Police procedurals are a dime a dozen these days, so I was pleased to discover that If You Knew Her was a medical-themed story. The police play a very small role here, and that was just fine with me. I loved reading a book that didn’t revolve around interview rooms and prison cells and instead focused on medical professionals and the people they care for.
So many of today’s thrillers are filled with unlikable characters who do despicable things at every turn, so this novel was quite a refreshing change. I didn’t like or agree with every decision made by the three main characters, but they are all likable, relatable people doing the best they can in the face of some very difficult circumstances. Ms. Elgar has created a cast of characters who aren’t all that different from people we encounter in our everyday lives, people who aren’t all good or all bad, but who exist in the sort of gray area we’re all familiar with.
The mystery is fast-paced and compelling, and, while I wasn’t exactly shocked by the identity of the villain, I found the climax to be more than satisfying. I figured a few things out ahead of time, but that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I’m normally a fan of twisty novels, but this slightly quieter mystery ended up being just as enjoyable as some of its more shocking counterparts, and I urge all of you to pick it up at your earliest convenience.