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Wednesday 6 September 2017

‘If I Die Tonight’ by A L Gaylin

Published by Century,
4 August 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78089637-3 (PB)

One of the things I admire most in any crime writer is the ability to ring the changes. This is a talent Alison Gaylin reveals over and over again. Her Brenna Spector series put a new slant on the private eye sub-genre. Her last novel delved into the darker side of Hollywood. And now, with If I Die Tonight, she moves right across to the eastern USA and makes a foray into the burgeoning world of domestic noir.

Most mothers of teenage boys will empathise with protagonist Jackie, who suddenly finds herself unable to get through to her older son Wade. And when one of his classmates is killed in a bizarre hit-and-run, and Wade finds himself under suspicion and in the firing line from half the town, he becomes even more uncommunicative; things soon start to escalate at an alarming rate.

Gaylin lays down a series of  possible clues: an arrogant policeman convinced he knows best; a couple with strange sexual tastes; texts and Facebook posts from questionable sources; Jackie's ex-husband, who has distanced himself from the family and has issues with his sons; an observant policewoman with a damaged past. Some are connected to the main plot, others aren't; one trick this highly skilled author pulls off is to leave the reader guessing which are which until the final few pages.

The claustrophobic American small-town atmosphere is so well portrayed it almost becomes another person in a book already stuffed full of characters so well-drawn that one detective's moustache seems to take on a life of its own. Ageing former rock star Amy, another victim of the hit-and-run (or was she?), is reminiscent of her namesake Ms Winehouse. Connor, Jackie's thirteen-year-old, exhibits all the confusion and ups and downs of early adolescence, and contrasts with his best friend Noah, who is still very much a little boy. Helen, Jackie's one remaining friend when the town turns against the whole family, seems too good to be true – and we all know what that means. And although Gaylin kept me wondering to the end whether or not Wade was guilty (read it, and wait and see!), I never lost sympathy with his poor lost soul.

Is Amy telling the truth? Is Wade guilty? Can Jackie and her family ever recover from the battering they take on social media? And which of those random threads will tie into the main plotline to form a satisfactory outcome? No spoilers from me; all I'm saying is that Alison, or A L, Gaylin is an author well worth discovering. Read this book; you won't be disappointed.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

A l Gaylin's first job was as a reporter for a celebrity tabloid, which sparked a lifelong interest in writing about people committing despicable acts. More than a decade later, she wrote and published her Edgar-nominated first novel, Hide Your Eyes. She's since published eight more books, including the USA Today and international bestselling Brenna Spector suspense series, which has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Thriller awards and won the Shamus award. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, cat and dog.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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