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The Breakdown


The Breakdown

It seemed innocent enough. Stormy night, driving along a rural back road on the way home from a friend's house. This is the setup for THE BREAKDOWN, the sophomore effort from a new and exciting voice in thriller fiction, British author B.A. Paris.

Our narrator and chief protagonist is Cass, a young woman who we watch being picked apart chapter by chapter by her own mind. Her mother died at the age of 44 from dementia. Even though that is not hereditary, Cass fears she somehow has become afflicted with this or another mind-altering disease. On that fateful night home, July 17th, Cass uses a shortcut on a less traveled back road and passes a car stopped on the side of the road. She is unable to get the attention of the woman sitting behind the wheel and is actually hesitant to stop, get out and intervene in whatever situation this stranger finds herself in. It seems, as far as Cass is concerned, that you cannot trust anyone these days. She would rather not get involved as her husband, Matthew, most certainly would have to find out what happened and she cannot have him discovering that she traveled on a road he warned her to stay off of.

"THE BREAKDOWN is a psychological thriller that hits on every level and is so compulsively readable that you will lose time while you are drawn deeper and deeper into this labyrinthine tale of madness, trust and complex relationships."

The next day, Cass hears on the news that the vehicle contained the body of a brutally murdered young woman. As more information about the victim is presented, Cass is devastated to learn that Jane Walters, the mother of two small children, was actually a recent acquaintance of hers. Cass met Jane at a work event for her best friend Rachel and instantly took a liking to Jane. In fact, the two of them would have lunch together and seemed well on their way to becoming fast friends.

As if that tragic news wasn't enough, Cass begins to notice things spinning out of control with her life. She starts receiving numerous phone calls that have no one on the other end when she picks up. There is also the strange man she is convinced has been spying on her in the neighborhood. The most alarming thing is her severe memory loss. It starts innocently enough with mixing up dates for events on her calendar --- like a friendly afternoon barbecue with good friends of hers and Matthew’s. But then it quickly escalates to packages showing up that she does not remember ordering; misplacing her car in a tiered parking garage; and forgetting that she set up an appointment for a new alarm to be installed in her home.

The trouble is that Cass is an unreliable narrator. With her addled memory, the reader has no idea if what she is describing is accurate, the incorrect imagination of a dementia patient, or something else. It calls to mind the terrific novel BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson, in which the female protagonist is unable to retain anything each time she falls asleep.

Readers will be completely engrossed as they watch Cass' downward spiral. The author deftly lifts the curtain a bit to give her audience an idea of what may actually be going on. Of course, this doesn't tell it all, and the ending may very well catch everyone by surprise. The question about Cass that continues to remain is: If someone out there is trying to drive her mad, is it the same person who killed Jane? Hang on to your seats for that answer!

Selecting a title for a novel is a difficult and important part of putting together a potential bestseller. It shouldn't be corny or too simple. In some cases, like we have here, the title can stand for more than one thing. We have the broken-down car on the side of the road with the dead woman in it, but there’s also the emotional, mental and physical breakdown we watch Cass live through. It's cliché to refer to a plot as “Hitchcockian,” but Sir Alfred would have had great fun adapting a novel such as this one to film.

B.A. Paris more than succeeds in following up her impressive debut, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. THE BREAKDOWN is a psychological thriller that hits on every level and is so compulsively readable that you will lose time while you are drawn deeper and deeper into this labyrinthine tale of madness, trust and complex relationships.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 18, 2017

The Breakdown
by B. A. Paris