Tom Morrow awakes to a message on his bedside pad. It says that Raquel, who was murdered three years ago, is still alive. And it appears to be in Tom's own handwriting.
When Tom goes to visit Raquel's grave, someone is already there. Someone who looks a lot like Tom. Someone who, unlike Tom, remembered to bring a boombox to play Tom and Raquel's song.
More than just his girlfriend, Raquel was -- and remains -- the center of Tom's world. So Tom needs to figure out what is going on. Especially when her doppelgänger shows up as well.
But each step is accompanied by a profound sense of déjà vu. Back to three years ago. When Tom first investigated the truth behind Raquel's death . . . .
Eerily Familiar is smart. The first half of the novel captures the reader in its baffling, David Lynch-style universe as Tom -- both in the present and, in alternating chapters, three years in the past -- investigates Raquel's death. But unlike many novels that rely upon cryptic happenings for their plots, first-time author Darren Lamere actually plays fair: halfway through, he explains the peculiar happenings, in a way that makes sense and is consistent with everything we've read so far.
What makes this impressive is that the explanation in no way diminishes the remainder of the story. Often, when a novel or movie depends upon apparently inexplicable circumstances to drive the plot, the story can no longer sustain interest once the explanation is revealed. The moment that Tom uncovers the truth, I braced myself for the novel to lose its enjoyably enigmatic tone.
In fact, Eerily Familiar only becomes richer. The explanation of one mystery branches off into several new complications, and the full implications of the situation are thoroughly explored. With each development, Lamere treats the reader fairly and with unbending intelligence, as what we thought we knew reconfigures itself to incorporate ever more intriguing situations. Yet throughout this process Lamere's first person narration remains impressively clear, so that, as confounding as events may become, we never have any difficulty in following the story.
Unfortunately, despite its prodigious strengths, Eerily Familiar is a little too bloodless to be fully engrossing. Although my mind was constantly entertained, the novel fails to achieve equal emotional heights. Events occur that should be extremely poignant, and, indeed, Tom duly talks about his inner upheaval. Yet Tom never really comes alive for the reader, and so his pain does not effectively translate into a shared emotional response. Lamere is clearly an extremely skilled writer, and he does wonders marshaling his detailed plot into a coherent, entertaining whole. My only hope -- and my genuine expectation -- is that next time, his characters will be as fully developed.
P.S.: This is a minor point, but cute names are almost always distracting. "Tom Morrow" is no exception, and is the one place where I felt Lamere was trying to be too clever.
Eerily Familiar is available from iUniverse or Amazon as a $19.95 paperback, a $29.95 hardcover, or a $6.00 DRM encrusted Adobe ebook. As far as I can tell, Lamere does not maintain an author website.
Eerily Familiar's chilly conceptual intensity reminds me a lot of Primer, the $7,000 indie film from 2004 that reduced the mysteries of time travel to a simultaneously baffling yet workaday reality. Primer, like, Eerily Familiar, thoroughly engaged my mind, and was genuinely worthwhile for that reason alone, but ultimately failed to fully progress beyond being an extremely clever intellectual exercise to become emotionally involving as well.