Déjà Vu, by Ian Hocking
(The Saskia Brandt Series #1)
Publisher: Unsung Stories
312 pages, eBook
Published: 30th June 2014
(Originally Published 2005)
It is the near future. European detective Saskia Brandt arrives with a foggy mind, despite a vacation, back into her office where she discovers the corpse of her receptionist. With all evidence pointing to her as the killer, Saskia is given mere hours to find a way to clear her name. This seemingly impossible task opens a door of revelation to Saskia, indicating that her identity, purpose, and past may not be what she now believes.
In the meantime, academic scientist David Proctor receives a strange visiter and message from his inventor daughter drawing him back to a research site where his wife died decades prior in a bizarre explosion. Accused of that explosion, but having no memory of it, Brandt travels in flight from European agents, including Saskia.
Shrouded in uncertain identity and memory, the pasts of Saskia and David mix together with their present and future in Déjà Vu, a self-described technothriller that mashes up science fiction and crime thriller genre tropes.
The opening chapters of the novel caught my attention, and Saskia Brandt and her predicament in this book regarding her identity and uncertain past hold a great deal of potential. The shift in narrative to Proctor was therefore a bit jarring, for the remainder of the novel remained on this protagonist. This is especially unfortunate because he isn’t a particularly fascinating or likable character. Also it ends up negating the potential of Saskia, who the series is named after. The female protagonist ends up never having any self-definition. Instead she remains something created and manipulated, within the story as much as by the writer. By the time she returns to the novel after the chapters of focus on David, her purpose becomes fully tied to David’s, and there she basically remains.
Beyond disappointing with the wasted potential of a strong female character, Déjà Vu, doesn’t find any other way to significantly impress either. It is not a bad novel; it’s just rather ordinary. Nothing in the plot is particularly novel in terms of technology or twist. The mystery of how the various plot strands come together between past and future of course involves time travel, again not something new to science fiction. Here though time travel is kept to strict rules of causality, so that if something happened in the past, it will happen in the future. No exception.
So, if you try to shoot Hitler to prevent him from rising to power, it won’t happen. The gun will jam. The bullet will fly off at a ninety-degree angle and hit a wall instead. Etc. This ends up effectively making a deus ex machina situation where the plot advances simply because that is how the past was written – quite literally here, by the author.
There are concepts within Déjà Vu that while done in science fiction plenty of times, could be handled anew in a fresh significant way. The start of Saskia’s story had me excited that this might be the case, but unfortunately that isn’t what the novel became. Again, Déjà Vu isn’t terrible and there are nuggets of creative quality here, that even writer Ian Watson gave it praise. But with a generic plot and characters that never became captivating or profound the work just comes across as flat.
Disclaimer: I received a free advanced electronic reading copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.