With its many references to the Boston area, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson has been on my TBR* list since it came out last February, but once I finally opened it and read the beginning, I was hooked. I whipped through almost all of it in a single sitting on Saturday.
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is a true literary thriller with references to novels and other literature here and there, and a main character, George Foss, who works in the accounting department of a struggling Boston literary magazine. The book is about the consequences of George’s running into the girl he fell head over heels in love with twenty years earlier during their first semester as freshmen at Mather College, whom he hadn’t seen or heard from since.
Author Peter Swanson is a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies. This comes through especially in the twisty pacing of the book and in several scenes during which I may have literally held my breath while reading. Boston-area readers will enjoy mentions of well-known local spots, including the Kowloon on Route 1 in Saugus, and trying to guess what actual locations the fictional locations might be (New Essex – That would probably be Essex, a seaside town north of Boston? And Mather, the New England liberal arts college George Foss attended – the author’s own alma mater, Trinity College in Connecticut?), but the characters and their motives are more interesting than the setting, so readers unfamiliar with the area won’t miss out on anything important to the story.
Although the meaning of the hard-to-remember title gets explained eventually, I assume The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is also a reference to the literary thriller The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – another book billed as a stylish literary thriller. (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart has been optioned for film; I’ll be curious to see if a movie is given a different, easier-to-remember title.) As everyone knows, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was the first in a trilogy. I thought the same might be true here, but Peter Swanson denies that a sequel is in the works in this interview at Coot’s Reviews.
Even with a murder, police detectives, and a private investigator, also a blurb from Dennis Lehane on the cover and elements of noir, I wouldn’t suggest this to a reader looking for realistic crime fiction, but to a literary fiction reader who maybe also likes Patricia Highsmith or Dennis Lehane. You do have to be willing to suspend disbelief a few times and go along for the “sexy, electric thrill ride,” as Dennis Lehane describes the book.
Watch out for spoilers if you read other reviews. Better just get the book yourself, and read it quick!
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Feb. 2, 2014
*To Be Read