"Saskia Brandt emerged from the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate and narrowed her eyes at the evening. The mirrored arches of the Federal Office of Investigation gleamed in front of her. Minutes later, she strode inside. She crossed the inlaid insignia- Ex tabula rasa- and dumped her ceramic revolver in a tray. Huffed. Stepped through the detector and retrieved the gun while the guard folded his arms and made her feel exposed with her hair down, absurd in her casual skirt, short in her flip flops."
Deja Vu by Ian Hocking is the first book in 'The Saskia Brandt Series".
Set in the year 2023, the story begins in Berlin. Saskia Brandt is returning to her office after a breakup with her boyfriend Simon- who was upset that her job with the FIB (Federal Office of Investigation) was always calling her away.
Having returned two days earlier than expected, she wonders where her secretary is. Computers in this future have very advanced AI and conversations with them are the norm. Which leads Saskia to ask both where her secretary is and why the air conditioning is off of her computer. Though it is extremely intelligent, its answers are not very helpful. But Saskia is able to solve the puzzle quickly when she finds her secretary's body in the fridge- with a stab wound below her left ear.
Realising that she is being framed, she goes to her superior, Beckman, and tells him what's happened, to which he replies that she needs to deal with it herself. Being charged with murder in this world leads to different repercussions than our own. If you are found guilty (which generally you are), you are executed (if you're lucky) or subjected to a brain wipe (which leaves you as a very literal, programmable blank slate).
Trying to find evidence that could prove her innocence, she manages to find and enhance a still shot of the murderer's face (off of the blade he used to kill her secretary). When the image comes back, her world falls apart. She's staring at a photo of herself. Scrutinising her mind for the missing memories of killing the woman, she's met with the cold truth that her whole life is fabricated. She has no memories of who she is that weren't created and implanted by someone else.
Beckman informs her that her mind was erased three weeks ago- after she was found guilty of murder- and that this was all a test to see if she could be part of a special group. One trained to hunt down other killers. He gives her a choice- work for him (receiving false memories and becoming his puppet) or be executed. With little choice, she accepts and is given her first mission.
Meanwhile in Nevada, Jennifer Proctor has invented the time machine. She works with the same facility that her father, David, used to work for. He lost his job after he was accused of planting a bomb in their own base in 2003. The explosion killed his wife and cost him his career, though he was acquitted of the charges.
David has been called to Scotland, to the deserted base to find his old friend, Bruce- who has broken into the labs. What he finds is a dying man. Both men wanted to destroy the project they were working on twenty years ago, but have been unable to. David plans to rectify that. This time, he is the one who plants the bomb- killing Bruce in the process and making David a wanted man, armed only with his pocket-computer (a prototype) called Ego and a drawing his daughter made when she was younger, he must depend on his wits and the help of a mysterious woman and her cryptic messages.
Saskia is now after David Proctor. She meets Klutikov, a Russian agent who is also a puppet like her. He tells her about the microchips in their brains, that transmit the false memories and knowledge they possess. If her chip fails, so does she. Her mind and body do not come from the same person. Her body is that of a killer she never knew and she is a parasite plugged into it. Even her being, what she calls herself, is just a bunch of donor memories.
Teamed up with an older Detective in Edinburgh, Pihilp Jago- who she affectionally nicknames Scotty, they search for the elusive David Proctor. Throughout, Saskia keeps seeing random flashes of another woman- the woman this body belonged to, but they are too disjointed and vague. All she comes away with is a woman's name- Ute. Does she want these memories? Does she want to meet Ute- who the press nicknamed the "Angel of Death"?
There are a lot of Greek and Shakespearean references scattered throughout this book. In particular, the three fates- who cut your string when they deem that your life is up. Quite fitting seeing as Saskia's life is in another's hands. I also got echoes of something else. For anyone who has seen Joss Whedon's Dollhouse series, this holds a lot of similarities. The obvious one being, wiping the minds of people so that you can insert new ones that make them anyone. They can have any skill, they can be anything their creator desires.
Time-travel (which is present in this story) is always tricky to work with. The unavoidable paradoxes can leave crumbling holes in the plot. Here, it is done well. The points align, while still leaving necessary things ambiguous. There is still that question of whether you can actually change anything in the past or whether it has to happen because it's already happened. Best not to dwell on it too long. If you're looking for a scientific, deeply detailed explanation of time-travel and the many issues around it, this is not that.
I don't have too much to say about the characters. The one character who really stood out to me was, as you might expect, Saskia. The thought that your personality, your mind, your being is all a digital splicing of other people is extraordinary- both in its obscureness and in the fear it creates. That you are an intruder, a stranger in your own body must be a terrifying thing. What would you do? Would you want to know who the other half of your 'self' had been?
The ending was a conclusion. What I mean is, all the strings are brought together and the questions answered. The reader is brought full circle, back to the very beginning. There's nothing more to really say. It was a little anticlimactic. The penultimate big reveal gives us the whole picture of Saskia, in all its dramatic glory. But afterwards, the story fizzles out and just ends. There is the finale, where everything is wrapped up, but so much of the pace is lost, that it just sits there.
I'm not sure whether I'll carry on with the series. I found the concept intriguing, but the plot less so and with the reveal of Saskia's backstory, I'm left wondering if there's any more that I want to know.
Overall, a good read. If you're a fan of action, sci-fi or the paradoxes of life- this is for you.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.