Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Killing With Kindness

In the world of novels, the hot new trend is thrillers with multiple, unreliable narrators. Gone Girl paved the way for The Girl on the Train, and now for The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson.

In an opening that pays homage to the classic Strangers on a Train, a man and woman meet by chance on an ocean-hopping flight from London to Boston. He wants to kill his wife, and she (with a hidden, murderous past of her own) wants to help him get away with it. The two make a pact... but they face obstacles throughout the novel far greater than the simple secrets they're keeping from each other.

The Kind Worth Killing is presented through the eyes of four different narrators, yet it doesn't feel like it ever cheats the reader because of the very precise structure to which it adheres. The novel is divided into three sections; within each, we get the perspective of only two characters, who alternate chapters. As the plot progresses from section to section, one of the narrators is replaced by another, providing a new angle into the story as it shifts mid-stream.

Swanson does a good job of giving each of his narrating characters a distinct personality. You're not likely to have a "favorite," as they're all various degrees of reprehensible. Nevertheless, the internal logic of each makes sense in his or her own mind. More appealing, none of them are as smart as they think they are. I've heard complaints of Gone Girl about the too-perfect female lead (or, at least, of the unbelievably dumb other characters who can't seem to point out obvious flaws in her plans). You won't have that problem with The Kind Worth Killing. Indeed, it's an aspect of the narrative hand-off from section to section that each new narrator pokes holes in the self-importance of the others.

But it's also possible that the novel packs a few too many twists into its tight page count. The first major reveal is a nice revelation that kicks the story in an exciting new direction. But as the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." You begin mentally "looking in every corner" from that point on, and sure enough, nothing that follows is nearly as unexpected or effective.

Still, it all amounts to a rather fun thriller that doesn't take much time to read. I give The Kind Worth Killing a B+.

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