The Burning Mind (or The Phantom Instinct for USA readers) is the first novel by MG Gardiner. And is also the twelfth published by the author, because MG Gardiner is the author formerly known as Meg Gardiner. Yes, in the same year that last night’s CWA 2014 Dagger in the Library winner, SJ Bolton became Sharon Bolton, Meg Gardiner became MG Gardiner. Go figure!
Haven’t heard of Meg (or MG) Gardiner? Where’ve you been? Meg practised law in LA and taught writing at the University of California and she counts Stephen King as one of her biggest fans. She has written two thriller series with the recurring characters, Evan Delaney and Jo Beckett, and is an Edgar Award winner. The Burning Mind is the latest in a number of standalones.
Harper Flynn is working behind a bar when gunmen burst in, killing her boyfriend, Drew, and burning the place to the ground, with two gunmen dying in the process. Harper is convinced there were three gunmen, and that the third killer had been specifically targeting her in the attack. But neither the police, nor Drew’s family believe her. One year on, she spots someone lurking in the trees at Drew’s memorial service, and is convinced that she has seen the elusive third gunman. But the only person she can convince is Aiden Garrison, one of the policemen who survived the night of the attack. But Aiden suffered a brain injury that night and now has delusions that random innocent people are killers in disguise. If that doesn’t complicate things enough, Aiden discovers that Harper has a secret past that put significant doubt into his mind that she might be part of the whole conspiracy, and not a victim.
Meg’s writing style is to ratchet up tension at every opportunity, and she manages that in this book with apparent effortless skill. I have read some great books this year (as previous reviews will tell you), but only a few of them have kept me up into the early hours because I could not put them down. This is one of them. And an almost fleeting cameo by a character from one of her earlier series almost had me squealing with delight. If you haven’t read The Burning Mind I recommend you go out and buy it now. Or at least put it on your Christmas list. It’s a cracker!