The Spiral by Iain Ryan

‘The plastic door jolts and a man shouts ‘Come on.’

Dr Erma Bridges returns to Brisbane from Spain to attend a disciplinary meeting. A complaint has been made against her, concerning inappropriate relationships with students, and she is determined to attend the meeting. Erma believes that the complaint has been made by her disaffected research assistant Jenny Wasserman.  The complaint might not be totally unwarranted: Erma is writing a book about interactive narratives for young adults, and she may have become close to certain students. But where is Jenny?

Later, Erma wakes to find Jenny in her bedroom. Jenny fires the gun, shooting Erma twice and then hitting her with it. Erma is conscious enough to witness Jenny shooting herself dead.

A year later, Erma returns. She has spent time in Thailand. She is still trying to work out why Jenny tried to kill her and, when she takes possession of a box of Jenny’s belongings, she decides to try to create a timeline of Jenny’s last few months. Jenny was supposed to interview the reclusive Archibald Moder, the author of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories. The interview recording is missing, and Erma contacts Mr Moder to arrange for a reinterview.

That is one strand of this story, which also involves missing female students, dream sequences and Sero the Barbarian. The various strands will be brought together with lashings of gratuitous violence. Does it work? It is very clever, although essentially unbelievable. But if you are looking for suspense with twists and you can ignore gratuitous violence and suspend your disbelief, enjoy the rollercoaster ride! I did (mostly).

‘There’s one part of branching narrative that doesn’t work: the ending.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith