A complimentary copy of this novel was sent to me by the publisher – thank you! That fact of course didn’t influence my review in any way.
Simon Craig can be called many things…psychic, alcoholic, drug addict, unlicensed private detective, frequenter of nut houses and rehabs, a human wreck. His real problem are voices – the voices in his head which tell him stories, reveal even the ugliest truth whether he wants them to or not. He would do anything to make them shut up for good. Unfortunately alcohol and drugs help only for short periods, ruining his health.
When a crooked cop hires Simon to retrieve the runaway daughter of local crime lord, all seems like a very well-known routine – until a powerful maniac takes notice and wages a battle of wills against the unruly Mr. Craig. A female minion of that maniac, called Damsel, approaches Simon to kill him and then the strangest thing happens: the voices in his head do shut up.
Why Damsel is more effective than Benzedrine, Chesterfields and bourbon combined? Who will win a powerful struggle for her body and soul? The clash of two exceptionally strong psychics seems to be eminent but is Simon ready for it?
What I liked:
In my very humble opinion a good thriller should make you ask yourself at least one uncomfortable question. It should make you understand that, in certain circumstances, pretty much everybody can turn into a monster. Does ‘The Strong Brain’ managed that much? Partially yes.
The beginning was terrific – you get that super-flawed hero, abusing illegal and legal substances just to get some peace and quiet inside his head a bit longer. Simon can hear voices telling him real stories of people’s lives; it’s enough he touches an object belonging to that person or has any skin-to-skin contact with somebody alive. If only he could stabilize his own psyche he would be a cop or a PI extraordinaire. As it is he is an outcast, dying by bits every time the voices become louder. Then comes his long-time friend, Tanner, asking him a favour: he needs some help with a delicate case concerning Pauline Hostler, the only daughter of Hans Hostler, a German-born crime lord who has managed to keep a lot of cops, Tanner included, on his payroll. Still Hans is just a kindergarten scarecrow compared to the Benefactor, a mysterious psychic Simon will have to defeat in order to release his precious Damsel and survive. Overall the characters of this novel are like the dilapidated, empty house, shown between chapters – eerily sinister, definitely in dire need of general renovation, repulsing you and attracting in equal parts.
What I didn’t like:
The narration of the second part of the novel I found definitely inferior to the first part. Especially in the chapter ‘Simon Is Set Adrift’ the continuous repetition of the name of the main lead drove me nuts. Really, the man was alone floating in the sea, by that time every reader would know how he was called! In order not to sound groundless let me quote here one fragment from that chapter:
“Simon surfaced. The shore was no closer. Simon took a deep breath and dove again. He let his mind drift. Were there whales in these waters, mighty, blue behemoths? Would he be swallowed like Jonah? Simon pictured himself swimming down the black gullet of a whale. Would it be any different than the dark waters he swam in now? The shore mocked Simon with its distance. The night’s earliest stars twinkled in the yin-yang sky. Simon changed directions, tried to trick the shore and tide by cutting an angle northeast.”
You see what I mean? The paragraph is relatively short but the name “Simon” is repeated five times…
Also the ending left me a bit underwhelmed. (SPOILERS, highlight to read or skip) The big, scary Benefactor who could manipulate your brain, eat your life force and feast on your memories, turning you into a puppet, is killed… with a fist-sized stone. Then some government men contact Simon in prison and I admit their very existence left me wondering why such an intelligent manipulator like the Benefactor failed to perceive that his best chance was to intercept their special agency and place himself in a position of power. Oh well, perhaps it is only me and I admit I’ve seen too many movies with different conspiracy theories but it is exactly what I would have done if I were him.
Something for fans of thrillers with paranormal undercurrents. In my case The Strong Brain proved to be a bit of a damp squib. It started off in a very promising way but ultimately it didn’t deliver, not really.