Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review of Kill the Next One by Federico Axat (Text Publishing, 2016)

With an inoperable brain tumour, Ted McKay has decided to end it all.  With his wife and two daughters away on a break he sits in his study with a gun at his temple.  Just as he’s about to pull the trigger the door bell rings, a man shouting, begging him not to end it all just yet.  When Ted opens the door the stranger makes him a proposition: to join a suicide daisy-chain.  The man reasons it will be easier on his family if he’s murdered rather than committing suicide.  All Ted needs to do to join the club is kill two men: a man who has gotten away with murder and the next man in the daisy-chain.  With those two tasks complete, someone will come to kill him.  He agrees to the offer but during and after performing the two murders his grip on reality starts to become ever-more tenuous.  He blames his faulty memory and supposed hallucinations on the brain tumour, turning to his therapist to try and make sense of his world as he tries to work out if he’s become a cold-blooded killer or whether it has all been a trick of the mind.

Kill the Next One is an ambitious and an unusual crime novel.  Ted McKay may or may not have joined a suicide daisy-chain, killing two men – one the entry to the chain, the other the next link in the chain.  Since he’s suffering from a brain tumour his grip on reality is tenuous, with his dreams and the real world becoming thoroughly intertwined.  Axat uses this premise to spin a tale with numerous blinds, feints and twists.  Just as the reader feels they’re starting to piece the puzzle together, Axat throws all the pieces in the air once again.  The result is an intriguing and clever story about a man struggling with demons that may or may not be real but nonetheless have consequences with respect to his family and those he encounters.  Throughout Ted remains something of an enigma, somehow less than the sum of his multiple parts.  While the book is tagged as ‘The Perfect Thriller,’ it lacks the pace and tension of a thriller until the story reaches the denouement. Indeed, the pace is actually quite slow and more accurately be described as a slow-burning psychological noir.  The result of a somewhat elusive lead character and pedestrian pace that sometimes drags is that the tale is overly reliant on the plot to hook and drag the reader along.  This it achieves through the premise and convoluted loops, but cleverness alone doesn’t make-up for the lack of a thriller vibe.  Nonetheless, an interesting slice of literary crime fiction.  


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