Fresh Blood

Name: Wendy Walker

Title of Book: All Is Not Forgotten

'I devoured this novel.'

In the small town of Fairview, Conneticut Jenny Kramer, a teenage girl, is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault.

In the weeks and months that follow, Jenny heals from her physical wounds but struggles to deal with the raging emotions she is experiencing. Emotions she cannot connect to the event that’s triggered them because she has no memory of it.

Jenny’s father, Tom becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker while her mother, Charlotte prefers to pretend this horrific event hasn’t touched her perfect, country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hiding for years. Until the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their lives drives this psychological thriller to its shocking, unexpected conclusion.

I’m going to kick off this review by saying I loved this book. It is clever, complicated and very original. The blurb on the back of the edition that I received led me – mistakenly as it turned out – to expect a ‘stalker hunts his victim’ sort of novel. What a pleasant surprise it was when I realised I was reading quite a different story altogether.

Although the drug Jenny is given is effective, it cannot erase the emotions triggered by the attack. In the weeks and months that follow, Jenny increasingly struggles to deal with her feelings. In desperation, Jenny’s parents turn to local psychiatrist Dr Alan Forrester to see if he can help their daughter come to terms with what happened to her.

At this point in the story, the reader is already familiar with Dr Alan because he is the novel’s sole narrator. And what a great, manipulative narrator he turns out to be. The entire story of Jenny’s assault, memory-erasing medical treatment and the terrible effects all this has on her family are related to the reader through Dr Alan’s eyes.

As a psychiatrist, Dr Alan has a unique insight into the family and the problems they are experiencing. Before long, he’s not only helping Jenny, he is also treating Charlotte and Tom too.

Each character has their own secrets and problems, revealed to us bit by bit through Dr Alan’s narrative. The more Dr Alan gets caught up telling his characters’ stories, the more relaxed he becomes, until he is also revealing more of his real self to the reader. And that’s the point when you realise there’s a lot more to Dr Alan Forrester than he’d first have you believe.

I devoured this novel. Walker manages to achieve that fine balance between a story that’s pacey as hell, but also makes you think. It’s a clever, thought-provoking exploration of the long-term, psychological effects of trauma and the lengths any of us might go to in order to protect ourselves and those we love most.

If you’re looking for a clever psychological thriller that has something original to say about the human condition, look no further than Wendy Walker’s debut.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) I loved this book and, when I read it, I assumed you had a background in Psychiatry or Psychology. However, according to your website, you trained as an attorney. Can you tell me how you got the idea for this book and what sort of research you had to do?
This book began with one concept, which is the impact of memory science and the emerging treatments for trauma on survivors of crime. And within that topic, I found many questions involving our very humanity. Is it our experiences and our memories of them that make us who we are? Can we forget them and move on – either with a drug like Jenny or by sheer will power, like Jenny’s mother, Charlotte? Dr. Forrester himself is really just the sum of his experiences. Jenny’s father, Tom, is also very defined by his childhood. Every character and every plot line feeds into this one central theme about the connection between our past (held in our memories) and who we are today. These psychological issues fascinate me! I have always been that person who can listen to a friend talk about a fight with a spouse or a child’s issues at school for hours and hours, dissecting and analyzing and looking for the key to understanding the psychology behind the event. I am drawn to people’s ‘dark’ sides, to their secrets and their emotional scars and so this is where I always begin when I think about writing a plot for a novel.

My work as a divorce attorney, especially issues involving children, gave me a solid base of understanding of psychological terms and conditions that impact ordinary people. From there, I did a great deal of research online about memory science and trauma, and then consulted with experts in the fields of memory science, and trauma treatment.
2) The story is narrated by Dr Alan Forrester, a psychiatrist who treats Jenny and her family in the weeks and months following her attack. He’s a brilliantly manipulative character. How did he come about?
I needed a narrator who would have access to every character on a very personal and deep psychological level. The character who emerged in my imagination was a man with very specific characteristics, including his gender, his strong views about the world, and his voice. From there, I had to decide how involved he would be in the story itself – was he just a witness to the events, or would he become involved personally? I chose to weave him into every aspect of the story because his personality worked so beautifully with the manipulations that were required to make this happen. Writing him was terrific fun for me, and I knew readers would love to hate him, but also, perhaps, identify with his own trauma and the events that motivated his actions.
3) The blurb on the back of the book implies the story is about Jenny and her family. For me, the novel is about Alan and the steps he was willing to take to protect his own child. Would you agree with that?
There are many plot lines in the novel which deal with different psychological issues and dilemmas. The situation which emerges for Dr. Forrester is very complex and results from his own actions, as well as the actions of others which he could not have foreseen. This dilemma – how far would he go to protect his child – is in conflict with his desire to help Jenny and her family, and also his own professional ego, which is quite pronounced. This does become a major theme towards the end of the novel, and is one that I think all readers can identify with to some degree.
4) The sense of location is very strong in this book. You evoke a real sense of what it’s like to live in a small, American town. Is this a setting you know well?
I needed a place that would be very insulated and ‘safe’ – a place where people go to prevent the very crime that occurs in the novel. This allowed me to explore the reasons why Jenny’s mother, Charlotte, makes the choice to have Jenny’s memory erased. I have spent most of my life in Fairfield Country and Connecticut, and understand these small towns very well. What most people don’t know is that these small towns can be very different. The one I chose to create draws from different aspects of the towns I live in and around, and served all of my purposes for the plot. That is the benefit of making a setting fictitious!
5) The plot of this novel is very clever and complex. Did you know, from the beginning, how it would end?
That’s a good question, because I actually had three possible endings! I first wrote the ‘middle’ one – not as dark as the first and not as forgiving as the third. After getting reader feedback from my agent and a few trusted friends, I went with the most forgiving ending because Dr. Forrester was already becoming very complex. I wrote the entire plot using different coloured index cards so I could keep track of all of my characters and the story development. I wanted to write the book in a non-linear way, telling the story the way it might be told in a conversation. Because I knew the ending might change, I kept track of all the places where I would have to make revisions. I will leave it to the readers’ imaginations what the darker endings involved!
6) I’ve read that the film rights have been sold. How did you feel when you heard that Reese Witherspoon wanted to adapt the book? Who would be on your cast wish list to play the roles of Charlotte, Tom and Alan?
I was thrilled! Reese and her partner, Bruna Papandrea, have done amazing work with complex female characters. I got the news right after I sold the book to St. Martin’s Press in the US. It was incredible on many different levels. Obviously, there is the star aspect to it, but more than that, Reese Witherspoon has been making a name for herself in the book to film world, so it could not have been more exciting! People ask me about the casting all the time, and other than Reese playing Charlotte (which I hope will work out), I really have a hard time placing anyone in the roles of my characters. They are who they are in my mind and that’s very hard to change. I think that’s why it’s sometimes good to let the film people do their job – they can create a new vision for the story that will work on screen.
7) What one piece of advice would you give novice writers after your journey becoming published?
That’s a tough one! I wrote for almost 17 years before ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ was published. I had two other novels published, but they did not create a career for me as a writer the way this novel did. My best advice is to keep writing, but also to be involved in the world of writing and publishing so that you can know what editors are looking for. Trends come and go very quickly, and while there is always room in the market for brilliant literary work, most industry professionals are inundated with submissions claiming to be just that. You have to get past the gatekeepers – you have to get noticed and read. To do that, it is essential to catch the eye of an agent or editor using a pitch and story line that they are already looking for to some extent. This ‘write to the market’ advice is not always popular with writers, but I believe it is essential. Once you have established yourself, you can have more freedom to explore new concepts and create new trends. But it is very hard to break through without offering something that the publishers are hungry for.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
Very much! I would take Mystic River by Dennis Lehane for its complexity and heart-breaking characters, Tell No One by Harlan Coben for its addictive page turning appeal, and Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow for the fantastic twist at the end.