Audiobook Review: Final Cut by S.J. Watson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: HarperAudio (August 25, 2020)
Length: 9 hrs and 53 mins
Narrator: Billie Fulford Brown, Mary Jane Wells, Zehra Jane Naqvi, Matthew Waterson, Will M. Watt
S.J. Watson’s debut Before I Go to Sleep was a book I read early in my blogging days, and as I recall, I was quite taken with its rather unusual handling of the good old amnesia plot. Thus I was quite intrigued when I found out about his new book Final Cut, another psychologically-driven suspense mystery dealing with memory loss.
Alex Young is the protagonist of this novel, who over the years has made quite a name for herself as an award-winning documentary filmmaker specializing in covering hard-hitting social issues. To keep at the top of her game though, she’ll need a new angle, and in spite of herself, she knows there’s a good story in the small dreary village of Blackwood Bay tucked away along the northern English coast. A town with a notorious history of smuggling, it’s also where teenage girls have a disturbing tendency to disappear without a trace. The last decade alone saw multiple reports of missing victims, and while some say they ran away, at least one is believed to be dead, having committed suicide by hurling herself off the cliffs.
But while there’s no doubt Blackwood Bay is a haunted place, that doesn’t fully explain the feelings of dread that come over Alex when she arrives in town. For she herself has a dark past that she doesn’t like to talk about, that she can’t even remember. Something terrible happened to her when she was a girl, something which led her to develop dissociative amnesia. However, lately the memories have begun slowly trickling back, and being in the strangely familiar environment of Blackwood Bay has somehow made them worse and more confusing. As Alex begins her investigation by conducting interviews and collecting stories about the missing girls, she begins to develop a sinking suspicion that she might have been one of them, and that maybe she had run away from this place to escape something terrible.
I’ll give the novel this—it had an intriguing premise. But as you can probably tell from my rating, I wasn’t completely blown away. Books like this are starting to make me wonder if thrillers and mysteries about amnesia and memory loss are even worth picking up anymore, because they always end up reusing the same formulaic plot lines and devices, not to mention the heavy dependence on the unreliable narrator trope. I had thought Final Cut might be different because of the interesting perspectives presented to us in Before I Go to Sleep, but in this case I might have let my expectations get the better of me.
Still, that’s not to say this was a bad book. I thought it had a good solid plot, even if everything was fairly predictable. Watson does a great job building suspense, though, by creating a soul-draining kind of bleakness around the setting, and one method by which he achieved this was through painting a downright unpleasant history for Blackwood Bay. Some places are said to have bad karma, and surely this seaside village is a good example. The crimes and abuses revealed to have taken place here were just plain awful, and over the years these evils appear to have poisoned the entire town including its residents, who all seem to go about their miserable lives with a demoralized, resigned air.
That said, in spite of the abundance of atmosphere, the story does start losing its steam after a while. Keep in mind that while Alex is busy figuring out her past, readers are also seeing the world through her eyes and putting all the pieces together, getting ever closer to figuring out the final twist. Eventually, I think the author realized it was getting a little too obvious and decided to send the protagonist off running in circles or chasing dead-end leads, all in a thinly-veiled attempt to stall for time and throw us off the scent. Personally, I didn’t think it worked out too well.
The result is a moody mystery that reads more like a drama than true suspense, much less a psychological thriller, and yes, in some ways this was disappointing because I had expected the latter. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t write off the novel completely, especially if you find the premise interesting. Although I found the thriller aspect and final twist to be a bust, if you enjoy mystery noir stories with their hopelessly flawed and troubled protagonists and gloomy atmospheric settings, you will probably find a lot to like in Final Cut.
Audiobook Comments: Multiple narrators made this audiobook a fuller experience, and they all delivered great performances, bringing the various people in the story to life. Alex’s parts were particularly well done, with the reader’s voice giving emotional weight to the character’s quest to investigate the disappearances in Blackwood Bay and solve the mystery of her past.