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Read an Excerpt of THE GREAT FORGETTING by James Renner

James Renner’s The Man From Primrose Lane blew me away (seriously, it’s fantastic), so I’m really, really excited for his new book, The Great Forgetting (out today!) Check out the excerpt below-I promise you’ll want more!

About the book:

A new genre-bending novel from the author of The Man from Primrose Lane

In The Man from Primrose Lane, James Renner fused time travel with serial-killer thrillers, resulting in what the Associated Press called “a superbly crazy and imaginative story.” Now, in The Great Forgetting, he blends science fiction and conspiracy thrillers with a touch of pure fantasy, and the result is just as crazy and imaginative.

Jack Felter, a history teacher, returns home to bucolic Franklin Mills, Ohio, to care for his father, a retired pilot who suffers from dementia and is quickly losing his memory. Jack would love to forget about Franklin Mills, and about Sam, the girl he fell in love with, who ran off with his best friend, Tony. Except Tony has gone missing.

Soon Jack is pulled into the search for Tony, but the only one who seems to know anything is Tony’s last patient, a paranoid boy named Cole. Jack must team up with Cole to follow Tony’s trail-and maybe save the world. Their journey will lead them to Manhattan and secret facilities buried under the Catskills, and eventually to a forgotten island in the Pacific-the final destination of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

When Jack learns the details about the program known as the Great Forgetting, he’s faced with the timeless question: Is it better to forget our greatest mistake or to remember, so it’s never repeated?

Read on for the excerpt!


The scoutmaster paced back and forth in front of the morgue, a cigarette in one hand and a black plastic garbage bag in the other. He was a tall man in layers of fl annel, skin stretched from the sun and hard living. He looked up as the coroner’s sedan turned into the gravel lot behind the low brick building, and then fl icked what remained of his Pall Mall onto the rocks.

“Christ, Mason, I called you half an hour ago,” he said to the potbellied man who pried himself from the car.

“Sorry,” muttered the coroner. “Let’s go inside, Reggie.”

Before 9/11, Earl Mason’s gig as coroner of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, had been relatively predictable. Someone died too young, he’d send the body up to Johnston so doctors could cut it open and fi nd out why. The others, he’d pretty up and place inside a casket in his funeral home on North Street, in Shanksville.

And then Flight 93 crashed into the ground out near the old strip mine in Stonycreek, killing forty passengers and four hijackers.

Mason was forced into the spotlight, not the most comfortable place to be for a paunchy man with a slight lisp. He became the face of Somerset County, the person reporters called first. Everyone wanted details about the crash site, details only a coroner could provide. They wanted him to talk about what happens to the human body when it collides with the earth at something close to the speed of sound.

He learned quickly how his words might be spun toward an agenda, a realization that became the seed of countless nightmares. He once told CNN, “There were no human remains for me to identify.” What he had meant was that the force of the impact had vaporized the bodies as well as the plane itself. But the conspiracy nuts had latched onto his poor choice of words, used it to support some cockeyed theory that the plane was empty when it crashed. Point of fact: there were human remains to identify. Before the sun had set on September 11, 2001— fourteen years in the past, now— Mason himself had found a single Converse shoe near the crater in Stonycreek. Inside the shoe was a severed foot. A hunter named Burgess had discovered a suitcase full of belt buckles four miles from the impact site, undamaged except for a light staining of blood on the destination card.

Mason was the curator of what remained of Flight 93, of the things the passengers left behind. The stress caused him to overeat and he was pushing three hundred pounds. And so when Reggie Porter called to tell him that one of his scouts had found a dismembered arm while picking up litter around the perimeter of the Flight 93 memorial, he was in no real hurry to drive to the office.

Mason and the scoutmaster entered the lobby through a set of automatic doors, then turned left into a room full of stainless steel tables and cabinets. The stench of formaldehyde made Reggie cough into the sleeve of his flannel coat.

“Let’s see what we’ve got,” said Mason, taking the trash bag from Reggie and upending it above the exsanguination table. A thick, hairy arm tumbled out. It had been severed above the elbow, its fingers curled in a tight fist.

Reggie grimaced at the remains. “A Tenderfoot found it a few feet into the woods, downhill from the memorial. Stepped in to take a piss. Said it was just laying there.”

“It’s a joke,” said Mason. “He’s playing a joke on you.”

“I don’t think so,” said Reggie.

“This couldn’t have come from Flight 93. This appendage shows no sign of decomposition. Also, I don’t think it’s human.”


“Look here.” Mason rolled the arm over with the tip of a pen and pointed. The position of its thumb was lower than it should be. It looked sort of like a primate’s hand, like a chimpanzee hand. The skin was wrinkled and worn and padded.

“Where did Bobby Clutter get a monkey’s paw?”

“Yes, well, that is the twenty- fi ve- thousand- dollar question.” Mason snapped on a pair of latex gloves and pulled back on the index finger, slowly. “Hmm,” he said.


“There’s something in its hand.”

The coroner walked to a cabinet and returned with a metal probe, a pair of tweezers, and a scalpel. Mason used the scalpel to cut through its thumb and a black ooze bubbled from the open wound.

“Jesus,” said the scoutmaster.

Mason maneuvered the probe under the clenched fingers and reached in with the tweezers. With a tug, he pried loose a man’s watch. It was expensive— the timepiece of some upper- management VP.

“There’s writing on the back,” said Mason. “It’s engraved.”

“What’s it say?”

Mason squinted. “It says, ‘RIP, Tony Sanders. 1978 to 2012.’ ”

“Then you’re right, it couldn’t possibly be from the crash.”

For a moment Mason didn’t answer. He was trying very hard not to register the fear and puzzlement that was threatening to squeeze the air from his lungs. “Of course not,” he managed to say.

“So where’d it come from?”

Mason shrugged. “Not Flight 93,” he said. Then, with effort, he set the watch back on the table and escorted the scoutmaster out of the building. “Thanks for bringing this in, Reggie. Best not to talk about it any more than you already have. I don’t need reporters knocking on my door. And there’s some logical explanation, I’m sure.” His mouth had gone dry and his head was throbbing with the beginning of a migraine.
he coroner thanked the scoutmaster again and waved, once, before turning back inside. Alone, Mason jogged quickly to the examination room.

I’m remembering wrong, he told himself.

But he knew better. He’d had plenty of time to memorize their names. He heard them in his dreams.

He walked briskly to a shelf and pulled out a large black binder. He set it next to the simian hand and flipped it open. It was Flight 93’s passenger manifest. His finger swept down the list of names. There. Tony Sanders.

He looked over to the watch resting on the table as if he expected it to explode. It didn’t. His eyes fell on the half- opened hand.

The monkey’s paw, empty now, revealed another secret.

Tattooed into the wrinkled skin of its palm was a bright red swastika.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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