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Action-filled fiction enthralls readers with suspense

Have you ever been certain of something? So sure of it that you never question it? Charlie West, the main character in The Last Thing I Remember, by Andrew Klavan, has that kind of assurance in his country. So, he is very surprised when he wakes up bloodied and strapped to a chair in what is apparently a terrorist hideout in the woods.

Fortunately, Charlie is a black belt in karate. With a mixture of luck and skill, he makes his escape. He still has a problem, though. The last year of his life is completely gone from his memory. During this year, he somehow went from going to school and hanging out with friends to being interrogated in a terrorist encampment.

For Charlie, it only gets worse. After his escape, he contacts the police. They come immediately, but to arrest him for murder of his friend, Alex Hauser. With a year of his life missing, Charlie West is a convicted murderer.

In transit to prison, someone cuts his handcuffs and leaves him with a puzzling message. With his hands free, Charlie again manages to escape in the prison van. He returns to his home town of Centerville, staying away from his house to avoid capture. While stopping at a soup kitchen for food and rest, he sees a news feature on his escape.

Here the clash between Charlie’s past and the present becomes most defined. Throughout the first half of the story, frequent flashbacks return to the last day that Charlie remembers. However, the news program shows a clip of his girlfriend begging him to turn himself in. This only adds to Charlie’s puzzlement, since he does not remember having a girlfriend.

Because of this, Charlie is initially desperate to prove his innocence. Then he makes the connection. From a conversation he overheard in the terrorist compound and a news report he saw, Charlie realizes that the terrorists have plans to strike again and he is the only one who can stop them.

Despite a few flaws, I found The Last Thing I Remember an enjoyable read. The plot moved quickly, and the storyline retained a remarkable continuity even with the frequent flashbacks. The contrast between Charlie’s ordinary life and the insanity of his circumstances is emphasized, making him a more believable character.

Charlie’s narration of the story also helps to add a more human element to his otherwise incredible story. His tone is that of the ordinary teen, confused by the chaos he is faced with. The narration also serves to provide more background on Charlie and show some of his doubts and fears.

However, Charlie’s patriotic idealism never wavers, which comes across as alternatively admirable and ridiculous. His trust in his America never wanes, even as he is pursued for a crime he did not commit. This, and some unlikely plot elements, such as Charlie’s uncanny karate skills and escapes, are the main problems with the story.

For example, while Charlie is fleeing the terrorists, he comes across a small cave. This cave has an opening barely big enough for Charlie, and just too big for the burly terrorist guards. Charlie happens to have a keychain flashlight, and the cave eventually leads back out to the surface. Rare instances of overly convenient storytelling irritated me with their sheer unlikeliness, despite the fact that they did not occur often.

At the same time, I appreciated the changes in narration style during the escape scenes. When Charlie became terrified or exhausted, his narration changed to suit his emotion. During the cave scene, for example, I was forced to admire Klavan’s representation of claustrophobic panic even as I was annoyed by the plot. This element helped redeem the occasionally lacking storyline and renewed my interest in the book.

Overall, The Last Thing I Remember presented a fast-paced, gripping story with remarkable fluidity, adeptly using flashbacks to deepen the plot and introduce background. Each chapter ended with some sort of suspense or new conflict, drawing me in to the story. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys intense, action-filled fiction. My advice: If you enjoy the first twenty pages, stop reading and find the rest of the series. Otherwise, the suspense might be hazardous to your health.

The Last Thing I Remember is the first in the four-book Homelanders series. It runs just under 350 pages, and is available on Amazon or at local bookstores for about $10.

For more reviews, read the Aug. 28 article Adventure novel shatters cliche plots.

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