Monday, 2 March 2015

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson - review

The Kind Worth Killing is a new crime novel written by Peter Swanson and published by Faber. It's also one of the most gripping thrillers I've read in a long time, thanks to a quite dizzying series of plot twists. I've not come across Swanson before, although his previous book, the intriguingly titled The Girl With a Clock for a Heart evidently did very well, but I'd be amazed if a film-maker didn't snap this one up. It's a story that would make an extremely suspenseful movie.

The opening is self-consciously reminiscent of Strangers on a Train. A rich man, Ted, meets a beautiful woman at an airport, and confides that he wants to kill his unfaithful wife. To his bewilderment, she starts to encourage him. The link to Patricia Highsmith is made explicit by the fact that the woman, Lily, is reading The Two Faces of January, and it turns out she's a crime fiction fan - Christie and Sayers are among her favourites. But what else is she? And what will Ted do about that wife of his?

One or two reviewers have complained that Swanson isn't as fine a writer, in terms of literary style, as Highsmith, and that's true. But then let's face it - few of us are. Swanson proceeds to make very different and imaginative use of the basic premise, while displaying a consistent ingenuity that wasn't really Highsmith's forte. In particular, he plays risky games with viewpoint. The way he plays one particular trick not once but two or three times is audacious in the extreme. Some people won't care for that device (to discuss it would be a spoiler) but I think he gets away with it. The key question is - which of the characters will get away with murder?

I think he could have made even more use of Lily's fondness for crime fiction in the second half of the book, while the very last twist reminded me rather of ironists like Anthony Berkeley.But above all, this is a fast-moving story that is compelling despite the fact that (as is not unusual in novels of psychological suspense) one struggles to identify with the main characters. I really enjoyed it from start to finish. And I bet that, had Hitchcock still been alive, he'd have loved it.  



harriet said...

I loved this too, and have given it a very positive review, which will appear in the next issue of Shiny New Books. I have been surprised to see a few negative ones, so I'm happy to find that you liked it so much!

Martin Edwards said...

Likewise, Harriet!

Clothes In Books said...

I've got a copy of this now, based on your reco, and look forward to reading it.

Deb said...

On your recommendation, I checked it out from the library and read it in a day--it hooked me that fast. I thought it was much more surprising than GONE GIRL (whose big "twist" I saw coming a mile away) and the characters more credible than those in GIRL ON A TRAIN. I thought it was excellent, including the final little twist at the very end. Thank you for the recommendation; it's a book well worth seeking out.