Targeting Best Friends?

The Next To Die - Sophie Hannah

The Next to Die, prolific author Sophie Hannah’s latest novel, is due for release in February 2019.  Known for her Spilling CID series and Agatha Christie- inspired mysteries, Hannah is known for skillfully playing with narrative style and characterization.  The new stand-alone novel features two main protagonists whose plotlines intersect during the investigation of an apparent serial killer. The crimes have a unique signature and the murderer seems to be targeting pairs of best friends.  First-person narrator Kim is an acerbic comedian who uses humor to disarm and maintain distance from others.  She realizes that she might be a target of the murderer after watching a news report.  Before their deaths, each victim received a small white book with half of a quote inside.  Kim remembers having been given a similar object at one of her shows but is baffled by the fact that she does not fit the prior pattern- she has no best friend like the others and has (thus far) been spared their fate.  Kim’s story is told at some points in the novel in the form of a book manuscript she is submitting for publication.  The other main character, Simon Waterhouse, is a DC assigned as part of the team investigating the homicides.  He has a prickly personality with an immersive approach to his job that results in an excellent solve rate.  His wife, Charlie, is assisting on the case, but she is distracted by a mystery of her own involving her sister.  The killer has been dubbed “Billy Dead Mates” due to the apparent motive.  A local columnist insists that the true underlying motive is misogyny (even though one of the victims was male).  She asserts that the police are ignoring this pivotal undercurrent and her provocative pieces attract the interest of the killer.  Sophie Hannah incorporates a variety of narrative modes and points-of-view: Kim’s manuscript, letters, emails, short stories, lists and conventional third-person accounts.  The result is an admirable, if overly ambitious approach, experimenting with traditional whodunnit methods of storytelling.  The core mystery is interesting, but The Next to Die suffers from too many characters and divergent sub-plots.  It becomes confusing to follow all the threads, and some of the characters are portrayed like overworked caricatures and stereotypes.  Few, if any, of the characters are likeable and some of the plot devices are unrealistic and implausible.  Readers who are new to Hannah’s work should select another one of her many books to get a more accurate idea of her talents.