Have you ever been introduced to someone but forgotten their name a moment later? Now imagine that you have anteretrograde amnesia--a disease that prevents you from forming new memories. You can recall everything from your past, but any new information disappears within five minutes.
In "The Memory Collector" by Meg Gardiner, forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett is called to San Francisco International airport to evaluate a passenger who came in on a flight from London. The man became confused and combative when the plane landed, and tried to open the emergency exit while the plane was still rolling. When two men tackled him, he threw them off easily and fought like a maniac, and now he is barricaded in the rear lavatory. When Jo knocks on the door, the man--Ian Kanan--comes out calmly, and doesn't understand why the plane has no passengers, or why the emergency exit door is partially open. On the way out of the plane various circumstances occur that cause Ian to have seizures, and to end up in the ER at the hospital. An MRI shows that something is eating away at Ian's brain, in the area responsible for new memories.
So now Jo has some sleuthing to do, and fast, before the public is affected. She has to figure out what happened to Ian and why, but he isn't capable of telling her. Ian can understand everything she's describing to him about his condition, but if his attention is diverted even for a split second, he loses it all. In fact, he constantly questions why he is at a hospital, and she has to keep introducing herself to him because he doesn't remember meeting her. He's suspicious of everyone and seems to be quite capable in the areas of espionage and self-defense. He's trying desperately to contact his wife, but forgets that he has already called her. Jo shows him the call history on his cell phone, which shows that he's made 47 calls to her number. When he finds out that he's either going to be arrested or detained for a psychiatric evaluation, he escapes from the hospital and a manhunt ensues.
And that's just the beginning of the story! Throughout the book the reader is given glimpses of the back-story. We find out how Ian became ill (but not why), and that his wife and son have been abducted. We are also learn that criminals are after a substance that Ian brought back with him and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it. The more we know, the more we begin to root for Ian.
Ian is very resourceful. He writes notes to himself so that five minutes later when he forgets his goal he can continue to make progress. Things are written on his arms in indelible ink, like "I cannot form new memories" (written by Jo), and a list of names followed by the words "they die." Ian enlists the aid of people he knows from past and he reacts instinctively when he is in danger.
Following the clues as best she can, Jo slowly begins to make sense of the events surrounding Ian's situation and knows that she is in a deadly race. Just when you think things are in hand, a turn of events sends everyone on a wild chase to different locations in the San Francisco area.
This story has a number of twists and turns and a variety of minor and major characters. Gardiner does a great job of creating the characters and keeps things interesting.
"The Memory Collector" is the second book in Gardiner's Jo Beckett series. I have not read the first book, but even though there are references to things that happened before, I did not feel that I missed anything. If you like Gardiner's style, she also has a second suspense fiction series and a few stand-alone books. If you like strong female protagonists, you might also try authors Lisa Gardner, Tami Hoag, Patricia Cornwell, and Iris Johansen.
Recommended by Angela Prandini