Review: Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris

Bring Me Back

B. A. Paris

June 19, 2018

Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris is a tour de force of psychological suspense that will have you questioning everything and everyone until its stunning climax.

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“Tony,” I say, taking the call. “Good to hear from you.”

“I’m not disturbing you, am I?”

“Not at all,” I say, noting that he sounds serious.

“Thomas Winter—you know, your ex-neighbor from St. Mary’s—came into the station… He said that yesterday, he saw Layla.”

My heart misses a beat. I lean my free hand on the cold metal back of the bench, trying to process what he’s just told me. I know he’s waiting for me to say something, but I can’t…

It’s been 12 years since Layla, the love of Finn’s life, disappeared from a rest stop in France. Twelve years of nothing but unanswered questions. Twelve years without a body, without closure.

Which is a mixed blessing because Finn can’t be entirely sure that he didn’t make Layla disappear.

See, he never told the police about the argument they had, about Layla’s confession, or about how he lost his temper (again) only to come back to himself alone in the men’s room. All anyone found was the tiny Russian doll she used to carry as a good luck talisman, dropped in the dirt by the car.

Did someone actually snatch Layla? Did Finn do something awful to her without realizing it? Or did she leave of her own free will?

As impossible as that sounds, it may just be true—because someone has started sending Finn little Russian dolls. And emails. Unsettling, ominous emails…

I’m here. Where are you?

A reply comes straight back.

Where I’d said I’d be.

I feel a wave of fury that he’s continuing to play with me.

No, you’re not. I’m at the cottage but you aren’t.

I can’t believe you’ve forgotten.

I type angrily: Forgotten what?

…I can’t believe you haven’t understood.

What—that you’re some sick psycho trying to make me think that you have Layla?

I chose it especially so that you would know it was me. If you still loved me, you would have understood. Goodbye, Finn.

I stare at the message, completely thrown at the mention of love, and the use of my name. I read the message again, more slowly this time. A chill runs down my spine—the bastard wants me to think the message is coming from Layla. Unless—no, it’s a trick, another step in his game. But my fingers are already picking out her name.

Layla?

Finn should be overjoyed that Layla might still be alive. But if she is and wasn’t held captive by a madman all these years, the question remains: just why did she let them think her dead? Mourn her and move on? Why would she hide? Why would she be tormenting her lover now?

And the timing couldn’t be worse—he’s about to marry her sister, Ellen. The two of them connected over Layla’s disappearance, and after a year together, they’re finally tying the knot. It eerily mirrors what happened with Layla: they were together for a year, Finn bought a ring, and then…

Desperate to keep things from his fiancée for fear this is all some horrible joke, Finn quickly spirals. In a matter of weeks—with the arrival of more Russian dolls, more emails that become increasingly imbalanced—he begins to unravel at an alarming rate.

I turn and look at Ellen, asleep beside me, one arm behind her head on the pillow, the other lying across her chest. Not so very long ago, I would have gently lifted her arm out of the way and gathered her to me, I would have started kissing her while she was still half-asleep.

But that was before Layla. The guilt I feel drives me out of bed and down the stairs to the kitchen. The post is lying on the mat and as I stoop to pick it up, I see a brown envelope with the same white sticker on the front, except this time it’s addressed to me, not Ellen. I don’t have to open it to know that it contains a Russian doll. I take it through to the kitchen, slit it open with a knife, and shake the contents into the palm of my hand. As I thought, it’s a Russian doll.

Except this one has had its head smashed in.

Bring Me Back is B. A. Paris’s third standalone thriller. If you’ve read her previous work, you know her stories are never what they seem at first blush, and this novel is no exception. As the story seesaws between the present and 12 years ago, as the perspective swings from Finn to a second narrator, we’re given an unsettling look into a passionate romance that may have burned a little too hot—and a pair of minds fractured by the heat.

Gillian Flynn essentially created this subgenre of thriller—stories of psychological suspense featuring unreliable and unlikable narrators, dangerous women, and mental instability—with Gone Girl, and comparing Bring Me Back to that game changer is almost inevitable.

Despite its turns, twists, and surprises, this isn’t all that complex of a tale once viewed from afar. But that’s not a putdown; with a barebones cast and the all-consuming focus on the mysterious and bizarre Layla, Paris does a respectable job of standing out in the growing crowd of emulators.

She peppers in just enough creepiness—you’ll never want to see a Russian doll again—to keep us charging forward alongside Finn. The tension builds so purposefully, we’ve rushed headlong into the climax without dwelling too much on the full implications of the clues, making the final chapter quite the shocker.

Bring Me Back is one of those unputdownable books that disquiets you even as it draws you in. At times, it’s hard to swallow—and yet you won’t be able to walk away. Not until you know the truth about Layla. So be sure to pick this one up when you have an entire evening to spare to save yourself that niggling unease of a story half-told.

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