Shadows of the mind is the second book in Clough’s Whispers of the past trilogy. This installment follows the story of Samuel McInnes (Mack), who was bundled away from New Zealand on the HMS Esk while still unconscious after an affray in Auckland in 1863. He regains consciousness on board as Lieutenant Samuel Mack, with no memory of who he is or where he is from, with an unidentifiable accent, a head full of peculiar vocabulary and extraordinarily prescient ideas.
In the first part of Whispers of the past a group of blokes on a pig-culling job for DOC in the Tongariro National Park in 2014, walk into a strange mist and emerge in 1863 New Zealand. One was Mack, another was Bob Kydd, a history student. Bob got back to the present and is now living in Southland in 2019. He decides to take time off his teaching job to apply himself to some genealogical research to find out what happened to Mack; a third friend, Shane, who also stayed in the past, managed to get a message to Bob, but he has received nothing from Mack, which is driving him and Mack’s parents and sister to despair. Bob believes his mate’s personality was so unique that he will be able to see traces of him through history if he looks hard enough.
As with the previous novel, Shadows of the mind is very gung ho. Lieutenant Mack is nursed on board by a firebrand of a nurse called Bella Wrightson. They fall into the usual man/carer relationship, but with as much of the impetus coming from Bella as Sam, and she applies herself to helping him regain his memories. This leads to some funny moments, especially with Sam’s colloquialisms. And some poignant ones, such as when Sam’s iPhone loses power, and he loses all the images of his mates. Sam doesn’t know how he knows what he knows, or where the odd words keep coming from – he sees a coachman load luggage onto a coach at one point and ‘bungee cords’ pops into his mind.
Meanwhile back in New Zealand and forward in time, Bob starts his online genealogical search. He taps into online groups and sends out international requests for help. He uses online newspapers, genealogy databases and Google, but he makes quite slow progress due not only to Bella using a false name in New Zealand but also Sam changing his name to Selkirk when he marries Bella. There are some clever moments when you see Bob glide over relevant pieces of information when searching, the reader knowing what Bob doesn’t. Clough has done what he can to make vicarious online searching interesting, but there is only so much you can do, and it seems to take Bob a long time to uncover relevant information.
The bulk of the novel is Sam feeling out of kilter with his environment, presenting lucrative ideas to his father-in-law, innovative ideas to garment manufacturers and security agencies, treating everyone as equals in a very hierarchical society, winning everyone over with his musical ability and instinctively applying his conservation ideals to his work on the family estate of Shadymore in Shrewsbury. Things go so smoothly for him, and all around him, and this is where the novel lacked a bit of punch for me; there is no conflict or challenge to add tension to the plot. Sam appears to be able to charm the new elasticated pants off everyone.
Shadows of the mind is charming and has some great characters. More conflict, and a few more commas, would have been beneficial, but it is fun to read and ends with a hint at what the final installment has to offer – which looks chocker full of conflict!