Crime novelists have always found fertile ground in closed communities. Small towns or complexes where everybody knows everybody else, much of the tension coming from crimes (usually murder) that causes those relationships to fray. Adam Sternbergh takes this idea and plays with it, throwing in a further, science fictional premise, to up the stakes just a little further.
The town of Ceasura, known by its residents as “The Blinds” is a completely closed community. It is a fenced-in, self-contained compound built in the middle of Texas, at least one hundred miles from the nearest town. The Blinds is an experiment in what might be termed restorative justice. The residents of the town either committed unspeakable crimes or have given evidence and are on the run from some bad people. As part of the experiment they have agreed to have relevant memories wiped so they have no idea what crimes they committed or whether, indeed, they are a criminal or an innocent. The sheriff of the town, Calvin Cooper, has been hired to keep watch but even this is more of an honorary position, his star is a fake and he too is hiding from his life. Calvin is supported by two deputies, both of whom are also employed to work in The Blinds.
Murder comes into this closed community. A man is shot even though there are officially no guns allows in Caesura. This follows a suicide also committed with a contraband gun. With this second death comes outsiders. And with outsiders comes trouble and a rapid breakdown of the system that kept all of the inhabitants not only safe from the outside world but from their own memories and from each other.
Sternbergh has taken plenty of influences, including police procedurals, technothrillers and westerns to fashion an enjoyable and tense narrative. And with the concept of memory wipe on the table there are some deeper themes at play here about justice, retribution and responsibility for one’s actions. The conflicted character of Sherriff Cooper is sympathetically drawn as are many of the other inhabitants of the town. This is a sympathy that tends to remain for some even when their incredibly violent pasts start to emerge.
The Blinds is an original and interesting genre mash which works if readers can accept the premise and not ask too many difficult questions in the age of social media and data mining. And using this premise effectively, Sternbergh builds effectively to an explosive, tense finale as the residents of the town are forced to confront who they are and what they might have done.