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Laura C’s review of And She Was & Into the Dark (Brenna Spector Series, Books 1 & 2) by Alison Gaylin
Thrillers published by HarperCollins Feb 2012 & Jan 2013

Brenna Spector, the protagonist of Gaylin’s And She Was and Into the Dark, is one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in a long time. She suffers from Hyperthymestic Syndrome, which most of us know as “that thing where you can’t forget anything.” Of course, the one thing she desperately wants to remember—the day her older sister disappeared, which was the trigger for the beginning of her disorder—is the thing she cannot.

Brenna has dedicated her life as a private investigator to tracking down other missing people, since she cannot find her own sister. And she’s very, very good at it. But while her work life seems to be under control, the rest of her life is a disaster. Her obsession with her sister’s disappearance ended her marriage, but since she cannot forget anything, she cannot forget the love she had for her husband. Her daughter is convinced that Brenna is only interested in the past, not the present…which is a fair assessment, since staying in the present is very difficult for Brenna.

It doesn’t help matters that in both And She Was and Into the Dark, the disappearances Brenna is hired to look into have links to her sister’s case. The connection in the first case is quite tenuous, but as anyone who’s ever had an obsession knows, even a hint can set you off. The link in the second book is much stronger, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be just as obsessed as Brenna with finding the truth in that one!

If Gaylin were to continue the Spector series, I doubt she could continue to play up the sister angle, simply because at a certain point the connections would begin to stretch credibility, but Spector could hold a series easily without those ties. A seasoned mystery and thriller reader, I usually manage to guess the “whodunit” by half to two-thirds of the way through a book. But there are so many twists and turns in each of these books, I had no clue whatsoever. The intricate plots of both And She Was and Into the Dark do require some attention to detail, but they also keep your brain active so you aren’t apt to give up no matter how twisted things get!

Gaylin has also surrounded Brenna with a host of fascinating secondary characters. Brenna’s assistant, Trent, is the kind of guy who would drive me batty—in fact, he does drive me batty, but at least I don’t have to smell his cologne—but you know he’s got a good heart under the knucklehead exterior. Brenna’s ex-husband, Jim, and his new wife, Faith, with whom she retains a push-pull relationship, add an emotional counterpoint. Since she cannot look at her ex without being overwhelmed by memories, Faith drops Brenna’s daughter off when they trade custody and Brenna communicates with Jim solely via Instant Message.

And then there’s Detective Nick Morasco, involved in both cases Brenna investigates. Brenna and Nick’s relationship is a troubled one—all her relationships, except possibly the one she has with Trent, are troubled—but he seems to understand her and accepts her even with her issues. There’s no big romance or anything, I wouldn’t want to give that impression, but there’s definitely a romantic element, a softening where Nick is involved that rounds out the story.

All in all, I would say that there’s something in these books for everyone. No torture porn, no blood-and-guts, just true mystery, suspense and a fascinating character. I hope Gaylin gives us more Brenna Spector in the future!

Grade: A


And She Was:On a summer afternoon in 1998, six-year-old Iris Neff walked away from a barbecue in her small suburban town . . . and vanished.

Missing persons investigator Brenna Spector has a rare neurological disorder that enables her to recall every detail of every day of her life. A blessing and a curse, it began in childhood, when her older sister stepped into a strange car never to be seen again, and it’s proven invaluable in her work. But it hasn’t helped her solve the mystery that haunts her above all others—and it didn’t lead her to little Iris. When a local woman, Carol Wentz, disappears eleven years later, Brenna uncovers bizarre connections between the missing woman, the long-gone little girl . . . and herself.

Into the Dark

Can a stranger share your memories?

That’s the question that haunts Brenna Spector when she first sees footage of missing webcam performer Lula Belle. Naked but hidden in shadow, the “performance artist” shares her deepest, darkest secrets with her unseen male audience . . . secrets that, to Brenna, are chillingly familiar.

Brenna has perfect memory, able to recall in astonishing detail every moment of every day of her adult life. But her childhood—those carefree years before the traumatic disappearance of her sister, Clea—is frustratingly vague. When Brenna listens to the stories Lula Belle tells her audience, stories only Brenna and Clea could know, those years come to life again in vivid detail. Convinced the missing internet performer has ties to her sister, Brenna takes the case—and in her quest for Lula Belle unravels a web of obsession, sex, guilt, and murder that could regain her family . . . or cost her life.

Read Excerpts: And She Was & Into the Dark