By Felicia Yap
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In this heart-pounding mystery, a woman is found dead—but in a society where only the privileged have memories longer than a day, the chances of solving the crime seem futile.Imagine a world in which classes are divided not by wealth or religion but by how much each group can remember. Monos, the majority, have only one day's worth of memory; elite Duos have two. In this stratified society, where Monos are excluded from holding high office and demanding jobs, Claire and Mark are a rare mixed marriage. Clare is a conscientious Mono housewife, Mark a novelist-turned-politician Duo on the rise. They are a shining example of a new vision of tolerance and equality-until…
A beautiful woman is found dead, her body dumped in England's River Cam. The woman is Mark's mistress, and he is the prime suspect in her murder. The detective investigating the case has secrets of his own. So did the victim. And when both the investigator's and the suspect's memories are constantly erased — how can anyone learn the truth?
Told from four different perspectives, that of Mark, Claire, the detective on the case, and the victim — Felicia Yap's staggeringly inventive debut leads us on a race against an ever-resetting clock to find the killer. With the science-fiction world-building of Philip K. Dick and the twisted ingenuity of Memento, Yesterday is a thriller you'll never forget.
A village near Cambridge
Two years before the murder
Let me tell you a couple of horrible secrets. I'll start by showing you a photograph.
This is me, a long time ago. I had a flat chest and protruding ears. If you look closely, you can see that I once had hope in my eyes and fire in my soul. Today, both the hope and the fire are gone. Wiped out by years of institutionalization.
Here's a second photograph. Oh, I see you flinching. That's understandable. It is, after all, a photograph of you. Your own mug shot, taken recently. You don't look too bad here. Blond hair cascading down your shoulders, impressive tits. Guess what? I'm going to transform myself so I'll look exactly like you. I'm going to bleach my hair and get boobs like yours.
Is that a frown I see on your forehead? You don't get it, do you? You're wondering: Why would I want to look like you?
Let me explain. I remember everything. Really, I do. I'm the only person in this world who remembers her past. All of it. Mostly in vivid detail. I'm not kidding. And that makes me pretty damned special.
You don't believe me, do you?
That's understandable, too. Like the five billion Monos around us, you only remember what happened yesterday. You wake up each morning with facts in your head. Carefully curated information about yourself and other people. You stagger from your bed to the iDiary on your gleaming kitchen counter. To that electronic device of yours, your meager lifeline to the past. Desperate to learn the few pitiful details you've written down the night before. Eager to add them to your memories of what happened yesterday—and to the other cold, sterile facts you've learned about yourself.
Pretty rubbish, isn't it?
And you're even used to this, aren't you? Because you've been doing it since the age of eighteen, after your hapless little brain switched itself off. No wonder you're envious of the few Duos whose short-term memories are slightly better than yours. But you are all the same.
Let me add a simple truth, since you're getting to know the real me.
When you remember everything, you recall what other people have done to you (even if they don't remember it themselves). Down to the smallest, most gruesome detail. Which causes you to desire vengeance if they've hurt you bad. Like, really, really bad. Like, say, if they caused you to end up in a mental asylum for seventeen years. It makes you yearn, during the darkest hours of the night when the moon's smile has faded and the owls have fallen silent, to set matters straight.
When you remember everything, you will also get away with everything. Like revenge, for instance.
Fucking convenient, isn't it?
This is precisely why I, Sophia Alyssa Ayling, will get away with it.
Vengeance would be nice. Especially in view of what you've done to me. All the terrible little things you've been guilty of over the years. I recall each and every one of them. It's the sum total of remembered grievances that makes hatred potent. Oh, yes. The act of revenge will be easy.
Because no one will remember what I'm going to do to you.
Except for me.
Happiness is a process. Unhappiness is a state.
—Diary of Mark Henry Evans
A man is whimpering in the kitchen. He is also blocking my way to the marble counter where my iDiary lies, its LED indicator still flashing electric purple. I squint; he's clutching his left hand and wincing in pain. Blood is dripping from his forefinger. He's surrounded by the remains of a teapot.
"What happened?" I ask.
"It slipped," he says, mouth taking on a stricken line.
"Let me have a look," I say, stepping around ceramic shards. As I move towards him, the gold ring on his left hand mocks me with a sharp glint. It causes the main facts I've learned about my husband over the years to spin back to mind. Name: Mark Henry Evans. Age: forty-five. Occupation: novelist hoping to be the next MP for South Cambridgeshire. We got married at 12:30 on 30 September 1995, in the chapel of Trinity College. Nine people attended our wedding. Mark's parents had refused to come. I promised Chaplain Walters that I will tell myself each morning that I love Mark. The cost of the wedding was £678.29. We last had sex more than two years ago, at 22:34 on 11 January, 2013. He was done in six and a half minutes.
I haven't yet worked out if these multiple facts I've retained about my husband should make me feel bad, sad—or mad.
"Tried to catch it midfall," says Mark. "But it bounced off the dishwasher."
I study the gash on his forefinger. It's almost an inch long. I lift my eyes to Mark's face, taking in the heavy creases above his brow. The troubled wrinkles fanning out from the corners of his eyes. His twisted lips. I remember him tossing about in bed last night, as if he was pursued by something in his dreams.
"Looks nasty," I say. "I'll get a bandage."
Turning my back on him, I hurry up the stairs. Fact: The first-aid kit is stored in the cabinet next to the bathroom mirror. Before I reach up, I pause in front of my reflection. The eyes staring back at me are different from the haunted eyes I saw yesterday. Today's face has clearer pupils. Yet its cheeks are swollen. The skin around its eyes is puffy.
I cried myself to sleep last night. I spent most of the day in bed.
I wonder why. I stare hard at the distended image in the mirror, willing the relevant facts to come to my mind. But the reasons behind yesterday's misery are flitting beyond reach, like the wings of an elusive butterfly. I only remember hiding, sobbing into my pillow, and refusing to eat. I grimace in defeat; the face in the mirror frowns back. Yesterday's unhappiness must have been caused by something that happened two days ago. But what?
I don't recall what occurred the day before yesterday. Because I can't. I only remember what happened yesterday.
My husband needs me, I tell myself with a sigh. I remove the kit from the cabinet and head downstairs. Mark is sitting at the kitchen table, nursing the injured finger in his right hand. His lips are still pulled back in a tortured grimace.
"Let me see to it," I say, opening the kit.
Mark winces as I wipe the blood away with a cotton swab. The cut's much deeper than I thought.
"I ought to disinfect it first." I pull out a small bottle of antiseptic from the kit and uncork its stopper.
"No need to fuss."
"I'm not having you walking around with an infected finger."
"It's just a small cut."
I ignore Mark; I dab a generous amount of antiseptic on the wound (he winces again) and wind a bandage round his finger. He opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again with a frown.
I kiss his finger before rising from the table and picking up my iDiary from the kitchen counter. I place my right thumb on its fingerprint-recognition sensor, causing its purple LEARN YESTERDAY'S ENTRY NOW diode to stop flashing. I scroll down to the final entry. Last night, I wrote:
11:12: Woke up feeling awful. Burden of knowledge hangs on shoulders. Spent hour crying in bed. Found Mark asleep in study at 12:25; woke him up and gave him present I bought—even though his birthday's a week from now. Broke down in tears again, went back to bed. Neglected all household chores—even gardening. Skipped lunch and dinner. Mark kept coming to bedroom with worried face to tell me that everything will be back to normal tomorrow. He's right. Yesterday's nightmare will be gone in the morning. Surfaced for a banana, usual pills, and two large single malts at 21:15 before returning to bed.
An accurate if skimpy description of what happened yesterday. But the entry does not explain why I cried. It only suggests that yesterday's unhappiness was triggered by something that happened two days ago. Something nightmarish. I scroll over to my penultimate entry:
Thunderstorm until 9:47. Took Nettle for walk afterwards. Lunch consisting of roast beef and potatoes at 13:30, taken in conservatory on my own. Mark wanted lunch in study so he could continue writing. Headed over to Grange Road at 16:50 for long chat with Emily over tea and crumpets. Evening uneventful. Mark headed back to study to do more writing. Curled up in front of television with microwaved leftovers.
I'm disappointed, even bemused, by the entry. I'd assumed that it would shed some light on the reasons behind yesterday's misery. But the entry is terse, even opaque. I scour its contents again only to draw a blank once more. Mark might know what happened two days ago. Unlike me, he's a Duo who remembers both yesterday and the day before. This is what makes him different from most of us. This is why he thinks he's superior.
"I remember spending most of yesterday crying," I say, noting that the frown on Mark's face has not lifted. "But I can't figure out why."
Our eyes meet. There's a dark glint in Mark's pupils, one I'm unable to fathom. Is it anger? Grief? Or fear?
He turns away from me and stares at my moth orchid for several seconds before replying.
"You forgot to take your medication two evenings ago," he says. "This caused a relapse yesterday."
He must be right. Fact: I've been taking two types of drugs since 7 April 2013, as prescribed by Dr. Helmut Jong of Addenbrooke's Hospital. Lexapro and Pristiq. Two of the former and one of the latter, each day. I reach for the medicine container on the counter, sifting through my mind again for more relevant details. Fact: I traveled to Newnham Pharmacy at 14:27 on 1 June 2015, to pick up the most recent round of pills, bearing another prescription from Dr. Jong. Sixty and thirty respectively, enough for a month.
I count the pills inside the gray container. There should be fifty and twenty-five of each. Instead, there are fifty-two and twenty-six remaining.
"You're right," I say, sighing. "I forgot to take my pills."
Mark grunts before getting up from his chair. I detect a slight softening of the tension around his shoulders.
"I'll clear up," he says.
As Mark bustles around the kitchen with a dustpan and brush, I move to the fridge and pull out a bottle of milk. My stomach's growling. I heap cornflakes into a bowl. I settle down at the kitchen counter with a spoon before turning on the radio. Static crackles in the room; a jingle for a car-insurance-comparison website chimes moments later. Mark has swept away the last of the shards. He has also decided that he still wants his tea; he's taken out a mug and plopped an Earl Grey tea bag into it.
"Good morning, East Anglia," says a male voice on the radio. "This is the news at eight. The queen has given her royal assent to an act of Parliament designed to encourage more mixed marriages between Monos and Duos, who, as the 2011 census has shown, now form seventy and thirty percent of the population respectively. Entrenched cultural prejudices have long deterred these unions from taking place. Only three hundred and eighty-nine mixed marriages were registered in Britain in 2014."
I steal a glance at Mark. He's stirring in a lump of sugar with a more cheerful upturn of his lips, though only by the tiniest of fractions. I know why he's pleased. The news must bode well for his ongoing MP campaign. Fact: He had the guts to wed Mono Claire Bushey twenty years ago despite strong opposition from his family. He's a Duo in touch with the needs, hopes, and fears of the Mono masses of Britain. He is married to one.
"Recent scientific studies have proved that a Mono-Duo couple has a seventy-five percent chance of conceiving Duo children."
Children. Fact: I want a baby. My heart's crying out for a little one to care for and love. But how will I have a baby when sex has dried up in my marriage?
"The government believes that an increased proportion of Duos will heighten Britain's economic competitiveness and productivity," continues the newscaster. "It has supported the Mixed Marriage Act, a piece of legislation granting tax advantages to Mono-Duo partnerships. The act is expected to come into effect on the fifteenth of February in 2016."
If only they knew. Facts matter. I've forced myself to learn them, whether I like them or not.
Fact: Monos married to Duos are subjected to daily reminders of their memory limitations. This dooms them to a state of chronic inferiority. This is probably why I've been on antidepressants for years. Yet I dare not contemplate the thought of leaving the man who ignored society's biggest taboo to marry me, as my prospects would be poorer if I did. Fact: Mark received an advance of £350,000 for On Death's Door, his most successful novel. We live in a Newnham mansion overlooking the Cam. Six bedrooms, a conservatory, and a 1.4-acre garden. Two vacations to the Caribbean each year, flying first class. If I'd married a fellow Mono, I'd still be a waitress at Varsity Blues.
The newscaster is now gabbling about the result of yesterday's football fixture between England and Germany.
I sigh, taking another spoonful of cereal. I crunch the flakes; their syrupy sweetness coats my tongue. My life is idyllic—but only on the surface. The facts say as much. If only there were a child in my life. The void is getting wider as the years pass—I'm thirty-nine now. And if only I could remember things as Mark does. Our memory gap separates us like an unbridgeable chasm.
The newscaster is saying something about Cambridge. I prick up my ears.
"…the body of a middle-aged woman was found in the River Cam at dawn today, in a nature reserve near the village of Newnham…"
The words are drowned by a crash. I look up from my cereal. Mark has dropped his mug. It's now in a dozen pieces on the kitchen floor. A steaming puddle of Earl Grey lies in front of him. A limp tea bag has draped itself over his foot.
"A spokesman for the Cambridgeshire Constabulary says the police are treating the death as suspicious and an investigation is now under way," the newscaster is saying. "Moving to the weather forecast, the Met Office says the day will be windy…"
I switch off the radio. The resulting silence seems twice as unsettling.
"What's the matter?" I say.
Mark does not respond. His eyes are out of focus. His shoulders are strung in a tense line.
"Was it the report about the dead woman?"
My husband blinks; I must be right. It is about her. But why?
"I was…just shocked by the news," he says, stumbling over his words. "They probably found her in the Paradise nature reserve, down the road. How dreadful. So that's why I heard police sirens this morning."
I study his face. His jaw is clenched.
"I don't understand why you look so agitated."
"I'm not," says Mark, although the tautness around his shoulders suggests otherwise. "I'm just careless. First the teapot, now the mug. Sorry. I'll clear up again."
He turns away from me and marches out of the kitchen.
I stare at the remainder of the cereal in my bowl. I'm no longer hungry.
Mark has swept away the remnants of the mug and retreated to his study at the end of the garden. I'm tempted to take Nettle for a walk in the nature reserve. While sections of the park are likely to be cordoned off, I might catch a glimpse of what the police are up to.
I place Nettle on a leash and head out into the sunshine. The morning air is crisp, even chilly. Faint notes of honeysuckle perfume the sidewalk. We proceed in the direction of the kissing gate at the end of Grantchester Meadows. Nettle bounces forward, sensing a rabbit or two. I tighten his leash. The kissing gate squeaks; we step through into the reserve. The ground underfoot is soft, even boggy in places. It's pockmarked with footprints, mostly fresh ones. A speckled wood butterfly dances up ahead, a flickering silhouette against rays of sunlight.
I hear muffled voices as we head down the woodland path, past several mature willows and a murky offshoot of the Cam on the right. Black helmets bob in the distance. I move closer. Several people are gathered on a strip of boardwalk, their heads turned away from me. They are held back by three policemen. A long ribbon of yellow tape winds between two trees, its ends fluttering in the wind.
Pulling Nettle's leash tight, I join the crowd. A denim-clad man with a green padded jacket is operating a camera. A suited newscaster with a pronounced quiff is speaking into a microphone. Most people are staring at the riverbank. Thrusting myself upwards on my toes, I peer over their heads.
"No smartphones." One of the policemen is shaking his finger at a boy.
The spectacle that greets my eyes is disappointing. I do not see a body—or a body bag. Only two men in white protective suits and blue rubber gloves. One of them is sealing something into a plastic bag. The second man is taking photographs of a large tree overhanging the Cam. Its enormous main trunk, partially submerged, protrudes over the waterway for about twenty feet before branching upwards into leafy boughs.
"What's going on?" I turn to a man in fluorescent orange running shoes.
"They found a dead body in the river earlier this morning."
"Can't see it."
"They took her away some time ago, down that lane." He points in the direction of a second woodland path, opposite the place where Nettle and I have come from.
"Must have been an awful sight."
"They were zipping her up into a bag when I first jogged by. That was a couple of hours ago. Blond. Long-haired. Couldn't quite make out her face."
"Do you know how they found her?"
"I overheard that man." He turns his finger to the newscaster with the microphone. "A jogger apparently saw her wedged in the reeds, floating in a facedown position. Right at the base of that large tree."
"Wish I'd got up earlier this morning. Would have spotted her first."
"I wonder if they know who she is."
"The newsman said they found a driving license in one of her pockets. But he didn't mention the name."
"I'm off now. It's getting boring. Nice dog."
He turns and jogs away, his orange shoes flashing between the trees. I can see the newscaster putting his microphone away. The camera is no longer rolling. I loosen Nettle's leash and begin tugging him in the direction of home, between willows rustling in the wind.
Poor woman. I wonder what happened to her.
Mark isn't around when I get home. He must be in his study. I unfasten Nettle's leash and pour a generous helping of biscuits into his bowl. As he crunches them down, I put on my overalls and gloves. My diary tells me that I have not done any outdoor work for at least two days. The garden must be crying out for some pruning and weeding. All 1.4 acres of it.
I push the door of the conservatory open and head out into the sunshine again. The wind has picked up. I troop down the paved path that slopes downwards in the direction of Mark's study. The thunderstorm of two mornings ago has left a trail of destruction across the garden. Broken twigs and snapped branches are strewn about everywhere. Hundreds of leaves whirl in circles, swept up by the wind. The storm has even uprooted some of the polished black and white pebbles along the garden path. Dark, grassless indentations mark the stones' absence.
I do not see the dislodged pebbles anywhere nearby. Nettle must have carried them off. He has a history of squirreling things away, because my diary says I found two stones and a manky tennis ball in his basket last Christmas Day. I'm good at learning small random facts, despite what Mark thinks.
I get to work at once, grabbing a rake from the garden shed. Before long, I've accumulated a stack of wilted leaves near the hedge at the front of the house. A comforting, earthy smell wafts from the pile. Gardening is therapeutic; this must be true, as the unease in my stomach is evaporating. Or perhaps it's because the hefty pile of leaves testifies that I've accomplished something useful this morning. Homemakers like me are reduced to measuring their daily accomplishments by the number of items they have cleaned or cleared away. It is probably the only thing that keeps us sane (or less depressed). Unlike Mark, I do not have book sales in the millions to be proud of.
And, unlike my husband, I have done very little to be proud of in my lifetime. My diary says as much.
Things are not improved by the fact that Mark, like most other Duos, secretly thinks Monos are stupid. That we are mentally circumscribed by our inability to remember what happened two days ago. That we have a myopic understanding of the world around us. He lacks the courage to say this to my face. But whenever I open my mouth, I can see Mark thinks as much. My diary indicates that I've endured twenty years of patronizing jibes from my Duo husband.
But I shall not dwell on these matters. I shall not think of my own inadequacies, either real or imaginary. Not when my spirits are finally lifting.
I grab a couple of large refuse bags from the garden shed and begin shoveling the leaves into them with renewed energy. Something rings in the distance. It sounds like the doorbell. It must be the postman.
I unlock a side door in the garden hedge and walk around the corner of the house to the front. A man is standing on the porch, his face turned at an angle away from me. He isn't the postman. His face is chiseled thin, with a strong, angular jawline. Hints of gray abound on his temples. His snowy button-down shirt is immaculate, pressed to perfection. His Oxford brogues are polished to a high sheen.
"Can I help you?" I say.
The man jumps before turning to look at me.
"Oh," he says.
His eyes settle on me, taking in my dirty overalls and shoes. His irises are steely gray in color, almost magnetic in focus. He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a photographic badge attached to a black folding wallet. It's in the shape of a snowflake with a crown on it.
"DCI Hans Richardson, Cambridgeshire Constabulary. I would like to speak to Mark Evans."
"We would like him to help us with an investigation."
"What are you investigating?"
"The death of a woman."
I gape at the detective.
"Surely not…er…the woman on the news this morning? Whose body was found in the Cam?"
"Actually, yes," he says with a nod. "I'm the senior investigating officer on the case. I'll be grateful if you could get Mr. Evans. He's your husband, I presume."
I nod. Something isn't right with the universe this morning, but I'm unable to place my finger on it. My eyes dart past Richardson; his checked blue-and-yellow patrol car is right outside our house. A uniformed driver is behind the wheel, his mustached face blurred by the tinted windows. A couple of neighbors are poking their heads out; one has even emerged onto her front porch to stare at us, still in her purple dressing gown. It's a shame a pesky row of terraced houses lies on the other side of the road.
"Mark's at work in his study," I say, eager to remove Richardson from my neighbors' line of vision. "Follow me."
I lead the detective around the corner of the house, noticing that his silk tie bears a small repeated motif. It looks like the Greek pi symbol I learned in school ages ago. Nettle bounces up to us. Richardson stoops down to scratch the dog's head, eliciting a vigorous wag in return. As we step through the side door leading into the garden, I decide to be brave and ask:
"What was her name?"
The detective purses his lips before answering:
The name does not ring a single factual bell in my mind.
"Why is her death…er…being treated as suspicious?"
"I cannot say." He shakes his head. "Sorry. Your garden's lovely, by the way. Really interesting."
"Thank you. I'll get my husband."
Richardson nods. I begin walking down the garden path to retrieve Mark. Alarm rushes into and floods my heart, blotting out everything else. Mark surely cannot be linked to Sophia Ayling. I've not learned any facts about her. To confirm this, I pause in my tracks to pull out my iDiary and tap in her name. Nothing shows up.
I reach the door of Mark's den and tap its surface. A loud groan issues from within.
- "To tantalizing degrees, Yap reinvents the unreliable narrator by ingeniously weaving together true, imagined and fabricated back stories."—Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Tribune
- "If you're into salacious plots, clever twists, and a mysterious murder, search no more."—Marie Claire
- "Suspenseful, thought-provoking and uniquely relevant as it explores the pliability of memory, fidelity and factuality"—Family Circle
- "Yap is a smart, swift plotter. . . . Remember her name."—Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
- "In Yesterday, Felicia Yap's intricate and mind-bending debut, there's murder with malice aforethought afoot and an ambitious, chess-obsessed detective on the case. But in Yap's imagined world, unusual challenges abound... In a novel with not one but four unreliable narrators at its core, you pretty much just have to strap in and go along for the bumpalicious ride."—Daneet Steffans, Seattle Review of Books
- "The thriller of the summer"—The Guardian [UK]
- "[An] ingenious debut...Yap fully exploits her provocative premise."—Publishers Weekly [starred review]
- "First novelist Yap has built an immersive, compelling, and terrifying world where the only truth people know is what they choose to tell themselves. For readers seeking a new spin on the unreliable narrator or fans of stories of self-deception such as Dan Chaon's Ill Will or E. Lockhart's We Were Liars."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "Yap is venturing into new genre territory--dare I call it a neuro-sci-fi thriller? An ambitious and fascinating twist on the throwback detective story, where we can't guess who is the killer and who is the victim...and memory itself is on trial."—Sandra Block, author of Little Black Lies
- "A compelling debut... The piecing together of disparate memories and the surprise ending to this speculative fiction world will thrill mystery fans."—Booklist
- "Makes us think differently, and more deeply, about ourselves from the world we live in... it's a twisty, well-plotted thriller and an exploration of memory itself."—Omnivoracious
- "At once a high-concept thriller with a sci-fi premise and an old-school noir, Felicia Yap's Yesterday is a tasty, satisfyingly grounded blend. A rich, rewarding debut that shows the ways that memory can betray us as painfully--and perhaps as inevitably--as those we love."—Andrew Pyper, bestselling author of The Demonologist
- "An intriguing, fast-paced thriller that captivated me right from the start."—Kate Rhodes, author of Crossbones Yard
- "Hypnotic and haunting, Yesterday confidently blends suspense, noir, and science fiction to construct a truly original, breathtaking story. Felicia Yap's debut is a work of genius."—Hilary Davidson, author of Blood Always Tells
- "Never has psychological crime fiction been so original, so witty and so inventive. This is an absolute firecracker of a read. I haven't enjoyed a debut this much in ages."—William Shaw, author of The Birdwatcher
- "Felicia Yap takes a unique premise and rockets through this year's most clever storyline. Spectacular twists, characters as distinct as they are compelling, and a resolution absolutely no one will have seen coming make Yesterday propulsive read. Memory loss has never been so fun."—Michael Cooper, author of Clawback
- "A great murder mystery with a unique and unsettling twist. This book delighted and confounded me in equal measure!"—James Oswald, author of Natural Causes
- "This was an amazing book, very original and despite challenging the reader's suspension of disbelief it drew me in very quickly. Terrific to find a book that can be classed as a crime thriller yet stand out from the crowd."—Alex Gray, author of The Bird That Did Not Sing
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2017
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Mulholland Books