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Tom Freeman thinks his demons are behind him. He has been sober for ten years, after a period of alcohol and drug abuse that almost killed him. His career is back on track, and he is happily married to Clare. They have a baby daughter, Julia. But when she begins to speak, why does Julia insist that her name is Melanie? And that Tom and Clare are not her real parents? Child psychiatrist Dr Brendan is baffled by her case, but accepts that children are sometimes born with memories of a previous life that cannot be explained away. Tom makes his own inquiries, leading to the chilling discovery that his daughter is possessed by the spirit of a girl who went missing ten years ago, at the exact spot where Tom suffered his last alcohol and drugfuelled blackout...

Reviews for A Memory of Demons

Chris Petit, The Guardian
Justin Warshaw, Times Literary Supplement, 27th June 2003

  Chris Petit, The Guardian

Those drunken binge black-outs return to haunt. Dried out and settled, the recovering alcoholic is alarmed when his daughter is possessed by the spirit of a young girl who vanished some years before from the same place as his last bender, long consigned to the pits of alcoholic amnesia. Coincidence takes on a nasty inevitability in a plot that reads like a bad case of the dry DTs.

Ambrose's narrative seems inspired by a strain of mind-shrink thrillers from 1940s film noir, driven by a fascination with, and suspicion of, therapy. These delighted in chucking the protagonist as high as possible, just to see how he would land. The trick was, and is, keep the twists coming, don't play safe and always assume life's not fair. Ambrose abides by all these rules and throws in a couple of slammers from left field. The moral: there is no recovery, only temporary remission before the nightmare returns.

  Justin Warshaw, Times Literary Supplement, 27th June 2003

A memory of Demons demonstrates David Ambrose’s proven skill in constructing the darkest of plots. The story grips, from the opening pages, when Tom Freeman, advertising director and alcoholic, wakes up injured in hospital not knowing how he got there, to the climax in which a ghostly apparition saves him from life imprisonment. One of the novel’s themes is reincarnation – a subject which in most crime novels features as a ruse for exhorting money from the family of the reincarnated soul. Here, the dreams of “the lost weekend” which plagues Freeman are mysteriously connected with his daughter Julia’s insistence that she is called Melanie and has “other” parents. She also claims that she has died in mysterious circumstances, Freeman begins to believe that he killed a thirteen-year-old girl during an alcoholic blackout and that she has returned in his daughter’s body to wreak vengeance.

The moments of possession are full of horror. Julia suddenly changes from innocent suburban child to precocious trailer trash. On a family holiday, she escapes to see her previous home and demonstrates inexplicable knowledge of another life as well as manifesting a different voice and behavior. Conventional treatment by an unperturbable child psychiatrist appears successful and the problem drifts away.

Freeman’s nightmares abate. Ten years go by before it all starts again: the child is possessed and the mystery of what Freeman may have done returns to haunt him.

Ambrose’s skill extends far beyond evoking horror. Freeman’s struggle with alcohol is dealt with compassionately. His problem is so severe that, while in hospital recovering from his injuries and suffering withdrawal symptoms, he decides suicide is the only answer. Just as he is about to throw himself out of the window, he realizes that what he really wants is not the oblivion of death but a drink. The mundane account of his battle to remain sober through the aid of his wife, Clare, and Alcoholics Anonymous, provides a welcome relief from the descriptions of possession and serial murder. Freeman is driven back to drink by the self-deceiving notion that only through alcohol will he be able to unravel the mystery and remember his evil deeds.

A memory of Demons is divided into four segments entitled “Suspicion”, “Confession”, “Judgement” and “Afterlife”. The first and third parts are told in the third person from Freeman’s perspective; the second and fourth are written in the first person – of the child psychiatrist, Hunt, and of Freeman’s possessed daughter, Julia. Using the voice of Hunt, Ambrose dissects a killer’s view of himself, in the tradition of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter or of Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman. David Ambrose’s killer remains aloof and terrifying while avoiding the almost comical absurdity to which these characters descend. The only disappointment here is the failure to find larger roles for interesting minor characters. Dr Oliver Lewis, the paranormal “ghostbuster”, and Murray Schenk, the hardbitten retired detective, are never allowed to develop beyond the one, albeit promising, dimension in which they are cast.

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