Sandra SG Wong’s first foray into crime fiction was with her alternate-history, semi-paranormal trilogy featuring private investigator Lola Starke. Now she is making a pivot and her new book, In the Dark We Forget, is an unusual blend of mystery, domestic suspense, and thriller with a powerful dose of social commentary.
In the Dark We Forget begins as our protagonist Cleo Li comes to consciousness on the shoulder of an asphalt road somewhere in the Canadian mountains with no memory of who she is. It is with these opening chapters that Sandra SG Wong captures her audience. The reader feels just as discombobulated as Cleo, with no idea what happened prior to her awakening in this remote setting. So, as Cleo’s memory slowly begins to return, the reader is invested in her story. This was a clever technique, as Cleo Li is not exactly the easiest character to bond with. Some of this has to do with her confusion, but as we learn more about her, Cleo proves to be a complex individual with many challenging interpersonal relationships.
What Cleo Li discovers is that her parents have vanished along with a winning lottery ticket that was worth $47 million. The police begin to question Cleo’s recollection of things and the more they apply pressure, the more Cleo Li begins to wonder if maybe they are correct. This trajectory of the plot is much like a roller-coaster, with a slow build to the peak followed by a hair-raising and speedy descent to answers.
Generational trauma can be a tricky topic to successfully pull off, but because Sandra SG Wong has invested the time to craft such multi-faceted and authentic characters, readers begin to see how past and present are simply the same line on a long continuum with each new development altering the road of life.
Being Chinese-Canadian, it should come as no surprise that Sandra SG Wong populates her book with many Chinese characters, but the commitment to diversity does not end there. Wong’s Canada is a true melting-pot and she uses this variety to highlight micro-aggressions, unfair practices, and stupid assumptions made against those who are viewed as “different.” Sandra SG Wong never lets these moments interfere or distract from the main storyline, but they do provide a more fully-realized version of her character’s lives in the same way that “local color” brings the South – and specifically Yoknapatawpha county – to life in the works of William Faulkner. This reference to Faulkner is not accidental; Sandra SG Wong’s writing is meticulous, with every word choice deeply considered and intentional, much like that legend of regional literature.
In the Dark We Forget may be a new sub-genre for Sandra SG Wong, but it’s clear that she invested the time to make sure her story fit into publishing’s artificial parameters without feeling like a cookie-cutter version of books already available. Only Sandra SG Wong could have written In the Dark We Forget, and readers will hope that whatever style of novel she tackles next is as equally deliberate and purposeful – if that is the case, this is an author to watch, well on her way to a storied career in crime fiction.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.