Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen
Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen (Macmillan, 2012) brings us a mother-and-son writing team which has collaborated on this stand-alone novel (there’s also an ebook short story featuring the heroine Kendra Michaels). Given the track record of this pair of writers, I suppose we can expect to see this heroine returning although I can’t say I champing at the bit to read the next instalment. Sadly, it’s trying too hard to be all things to all people and ends up being a little here, and a little there, with stuff happening in-between. It starts off by introducing a new Sherlock Holmes on overdrive. This is a young woman who was born blind, decided she was going to be independent and then was the beneficiary of a new medical procedure which gave her sight. So here comes the theory. While blind, she learned to use all her other senses to interrogate and understand the world. This sharpened those senses into lethal forensic weapons that can capture the smell of blossom at sixty paces and hear when someone walks past with a limp. When she’s finally able to add visual input, she looks where others would not and sees what others miss. Add to this a deductive reasoning capability like IBM Sequoia and you have our one-in-a-million amateur detective.
This is an interesting idea and, in the first section of the book, we’re given several examples of her ability to collect information and draw inferences that no normal person could match. For example, she can walk into a room and immediately smell chemicals suggesting one section of the carpet has been relaid, i.e. the carpet piece is new but has been aged to make it match the old carpet on the floor. This level of appreciation of her surroundings would potentially lead to sensory overload. Every glance gives her details to remember, each intake of breath through her nose adds depth to the scene, each turn of her head tunes her ears into sounds from different directions, each touch brings her new sensations. So, in the words of the rock opera Tommy, she sure plays a mean pinball. Except, after the first few scenes, there’s very little evidence of super abilities. I suspect the writing team had great fun reverse-engineering one or two set-pieces of deductive logic to show off their Arthur Conan Doyle credentials, and then got on with the task of writing a formulaic thriller.
So what do we have after the initial Sherlockian burst is over? Sexy, ex-blind chick gets sucked into an FBI investigation to find her ex-lover. The man who does the sucking (yes, if this goes into the series we all expect, this man will definitely end up the romantic counterpart) is also supposed to be a manipulator who can talk baby kittens down from trees. They form the essential partnership, striking sparks off each other as is required before defences crumble and they fall into each others arms sometime during book 2. Against them come an array of distinctly dumb heavies who try to shoot or otherwise kill them. Even the leaders of this home-grown terrorist cell are less than impressive in the brain department, preferring to kill off their own men for incompetence rather than encourage them to get back out there and finish the job. And what’s it all for? Well this loopy bunch has managed to steal the formula for a superweapon from Homeland Security. They cook up a big batch of it in a cave out in the desert and are ready to export it to al-Qaeda for more camels than money can buy. However, because they value their lives, they decide to test it on a very small scale. That way they will be confident of giving these foreign terrorists something that actually works and live long enough to enjoy their camels. So they infect a test group and monitor them. When it seems to be working, they pay an assassin to murder these test subjects in obvious ways. They hope the obviousness of the cause of death will pass the bodies through the autopsy system without a full battery of tests. Except, of course, the FBI does notice.
If you think this sounds complicated, it is, and unnecessarily so. I know bad guys have to be seen to be doing bad stuff and giving the whole thing an international terrorist dimension does up the ante, but it’s creating the one set of circumstances likely to lead to their detection. Sensible master criminals go to the foreign terrorists and say, “Look, we’ve stolen this weapon from Homeland Security and no-one knows we’ve got it. Gives us half the camels up front, we’ll give you the first batch and you can test it out in the desert somewhere on a tribe no-one will miss. When you prove it works, we take the rest of the camels, we cook up a major quantity of this stuff and you can hit any major city in the US and kill everyone.” It would actually have been more interesting if everyone in New York had suddenly dropped dead and our heroic duo set off to work out who was responsible and how they did it.
So what we have in Close Your Eyes is thin gruel with our heroes dodging death and beating the shit out of bad guys to pick up clues while our criminals go out of the way to signal they’re still around and pretending to be dangerous. It’s a quick read which gets on with the story except, by my standards, the story isn’t worth telling.
For a review of a book by Iris Johansen on her own but featuring Kenra Michaels in a supporting role, see Sleep No More.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.