Title: Mind Games (2020) Author: Margaret Reyes Dempsey Publisher: Kingsbrook Publishing Book jacket: Emily Cooke has it all—happy marriage, beautiful baby, successful career. But something is very wrong. Questions are piling up and so is the danger. Then a stranger appears, claiming to have answers. Wary, but desperate for the truth, she sets out with him on a mission that leads to a horrifying revelation. The only way out is to go deeper into a world of deadly criminals and shadowy government agencies. Joe Says: Mind Games is delicious fun.
One of the most convenient tropes of hard-edged thrillers are misplaced – or misremembered – memories. Think about it. These types of tales become the ultimate whodunnit because the Unreliable Narrator could be the innocent chap playing out the account – or the wolf everyone is hunting. This narrative style allows the reader – or viewer – to play along and solve the mystery while the hero struggles between fact and fiction, right and wrong. There is a quest, a need, to find answers and fill in those blanks to solve or prevent. The reader becomes a participant. And the story grows.
One reason this method is a trope is because more often than not, this recipe becomes as bland as oatmeal. Done up correctly? You get bananas and brown sugar and butter and raisins added. You get Teddy Daniels’ questioning of his sanity in Shutter Island. Or Rachel’s drunken blackouts in Girl on the Train. And suddenly, the mixture becomes yummy.
Mind Games cooks with that recipe while dipping into some sci-fi batter. The plot is fun and fast-paced. The characters are genuine. And yeah, the dialogue borders on Hallmark Channel schmaltz but when the zinger comes, and Margret Reyes Dempsey launches a doozy of one, she favors Twilight Zone nostalgia over comic book cheese.
Mind Games works through the story of two NYC women, Madison and Emily, and the bond they unknowingly share. Emily, the reluctant housewife, mother, safe in suburbia with her patterned china and teal walls. Madison, the high-strung doctor with a solitary life that is all stainless steel appliances and takeout leftovers. Then Madison saved the life of a mobster boss. Then Emily discovered her lineage might run deeper than New York Italian. Then, as their personal questions deepen, their lives explode with the discovery that their answers might lie with a deep, secret faction of the CIA who is conducting radical experiments for extracting intelligence from imprisoned terrorists. Because c’mon – who doesn’t need a little shadow government conspiracy to sweeten up the salty family drama? Right?
Mind Games is delicious fun. Reyes Dempsey employs sleight-of-hand tactics that distract the borderline ridiculousness of the McGuffin with the all-too real experiences of Emily and Madison. And that is what counts. The characters and real and relatable. The mystery is a good one. And even though the final mixture contains an equal heaping of fluff and goo, the final spread is downright tasty.