For those who prefer their narrators unreliable, Alice LaPlante provides a truly unique take on this literary device in her murder mystery Turn of Mind. The unreliable narrator in this novel, Dr. Jennifer White, is an orthopedic surgeon in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Her attorney husband James has died in a car crash; she has two grown children; and her best friend/neighbor Amanda has been murdered, her body discovered with four fingers surgically removed. Did Jennifer do it? As the murder investigation unfolds, we see Jennifer experiencing the deepening stages of her disease. On good days, she recognizes her children and remembers a few facts of her past, but good days are growing fewer in number, and Jennifer’s aggression is increasing. Her family has to make decisions about placement outside the home while a Chicago police detective tries to piece together the facts of the murder from Jennifer’s fragmented memories.
As a murder mystery, the novel is quite successful. LaPlante is skillful in creating her characters and their relationships to one another. Jennifer, her family and her friend Amanda are revealed, piecemeal, to be quite a dysfunctional crew, but that is only if you believe Jennifer’s murky and sometimes cryptic recollections. Her marriage had some rough passages, her children seem to have had rocky relationships with both parents and each other, and Amanda seems to be a friend with some rather sharp edges. The final resolution to the mystery was both tragic and plausible.
As a depiction of Alzheimer’s disease, the novel is an even greater success. LaPlante’s mapping of the progression of the disease in Jennifer is gripping and heartbreaking. Jennifer is initially aware of her problem, but with time, she fades more and more into her memories. We also see how those around her react to her illness. When Jennifer “checks out” down memory lane, some try to force her back to the present day and seem angry and resentful that she can’t remember things they’ve told her repeatedly. Others accept that this is the new reality and try not to upset her. The importance of financial planning as well as health care planning in advance is evident, as is the fact that the rich and successful can access better services (home care nurses, a well appointed nursing home) than others.
Turn of Mind is a satisfying and successful murder mystery that will educate the reader about Alzheimer’s disease. And keeping your mind engaged with reading and writing book reviews is an excellent way to try to stave off the disease.