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Flashback    by Dan Simmons Amazon.com order for
Flashback
by Dan Simmons
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Dan Simmons' latest dark tale is set in an America of the future where the majority of the population is addicted to a drug called flashback. It helps users relive the best moments of their lives, over and over again, often to the point of death. American citizens have good reason to want to forget: their country's gone bankrupt, big time, having virtually been bought up by Japanese conglomerates. The government has little or no power, except perhaps in the Federal Republic of Texas, where Rangers once again hold sway. The country's shopping malls are gone, reduced to a vast rabbit warren of dingy apartments for its unemployed populace.

Nick Bottom is one of them - a former Denver cop fired for his addiction to flashback. The death of his wife Dara in a car crash precipitated his fall from grace. He's even relinquished custody of his teenage son Val to his grandfather, a university professor living in California. Nick's whole world revolves around his next hit of flashback. Then he's summoned to the Japanese Green Zone for a meeting with billionaire Hiroshi Nakamura, who wants Nick to open one of Nick's cold cases - the murder of Nakamura's son Keigo six years before.

Nick'ís happy to comply; his advance alone would keep him in flashback for years. But when he's literally forced to work for his money, he soon begins to unravel the real truth behind America's fall from grace - a truth that others would kill to keep quiet.

Flashback isn't an easy book to get into - it's bleak, both in storyline and in character. Nick Bottom especially, is condescending, angry, bitter and jaded despite his end of the book epiphany regarding his drug addiction and a few other aspects of his life that have dragged him down. Some readers might also find the story overly political, not to mention prejudiced against various nationalities. The author set my outrage meter simmering a few times - until I reminded myself that it's fiction - albeit a fictional world that's completely conceivable, given the current state of the American psyche and of course, the economy.

The mystery is also a bit slow to unfold, but once Nick shakes himself out of his self-pitying mode and becomes the relentless detective that he once was, the pacing picks up and barrels to a satisfactory conclusion.

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