All Their Minds in Tandem - David Sanger

All Their Minds in Tandem - David Sanger ****

"Twin Peaks in the 1800s" is the hookline for David Sanger's debut novel All Their Minds in Tandem, and it promises intrigue, mystery, family secrets and hidden affairs, all with a supernatural element of horror associated with them and done in period costume. Inevitably, it doesn't quite live up to this promise, and it's not just because it's unlikely that the author would top the wild imagination of David Lynch. Once any preconceptions are put aside however, the novel largely succeeds on its own terms.

The similarities with Twin Peaks are there, but only if you want to look for them and establish vague parallel connections that aren't really intended. If you want, you could see the stranger who arrives in New Georgetown, West Virginia as a kind of Dale Cooper figure. Emerson, who advertises his services as 'The Maker', has mysterious abilities that allow him to see into the lives and dreams of people, manipulating or uncovering lost memories. He's engaged by the doctor of New Georgetown, a man who cannot remember anything of his own past, but perhaps those memories are hidden for a good reason...

The town itself has its own share of quirky and dangerous characters whose lives are connected in complicated ways with other dark secrets waiting to be uncovered. There's even a Laura Palmer figure, Ora, who works in a saloon owned by a mysterious figure who is never seen known as The Bird. Ora has hopes of a more settled life with a husband, but her family background is unstable and she's mixed up with sordid goings on with some of the wealthier personalities in the town. Emerson finds himself staying with the Marianne sisters, Blanche, Elena and Kitty, but even they have old family secrets that are never talked about.

The one notable difference that separates All Their Minds in Tandem from Twin Peaks, is that it doesn't have the same level of darkness, murder and mystery to draw you in. Without the element of intrigue (or the expectation of one placed on the book by the unhelpful comparisons), it takes far longer for Sanger's story to establish its own pace and direction. The darkness and the horror is there however, along with a supernatural element, and it's associated with the horrors of the American Civil War that have not been entirely buried in the past and forgotten about. Many families, divided by the war, still have fresh scars and wounds to the psyche that resurface in unexpected ways.

If the expectations about the mysterious stranger (who is never really called 'the Maker' by anyone else in the book) don't live up to the billing, his power and the backstory behind Emerson's personal mission proves to be a good one that comes together well and delivers a satisfying conclusion. All Their Minds in Tandem however doesn't just end at the expected climax, but takes the time to finish the process it begins with a kind of community healing and a necessary moving on that gives it a better sense of balance and purpose than the average supernatural thriller. It makes all the difference.

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All Their Minds in Tandem by David Sanger is published by Quercus

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