Peter Swanson is one of those writers who can grab a reader’s attention simply with the briefest of plot descriptions. For example: a killer is recreating murders from classic crime novels (Eight Perfect Murders). Or a woman swaps homes with a distant cousin who might be a killer (Her Every Fear). Now with Nine Lives, Peter Swanson has done it again: Nine random strangers receive a sheet of paper with a list of names (including their own) and shortly afterwards those people start to die one by one.
Of course, a plot like this pays homage to the great Agatha Christie and And Then There Were None, but Swanson takes this familiar trope and creates something that feels both fresh and familiar simultaneously. On the surface, these nine individuals seem to have no connection whatsoever – but if that is true, why do the unusual deaths seem so menacing?
Nine Lives begins with a character list, which becomes vital later in the reading – given the large number of characters who are central to the mystery. This is followed by more in-depth introductions to each of these characters, their lives and lifestyles and naturally, the arrival of this mysterious list that includes their name for some unknown reason. Once Peter Swanson is sure readers have a grasp on all the players, the plot takes off at full steam and never looks back.
To keep things moving Peter Swanson limits the development of the characters to the bare minimum. While this does mean readers cannot get too fully invested in any one character, it is a wise move with such a vast canvas. The fact that these characters start to die – thus eliminating their point-of-view sections – places the reader on unstable ground wondering whose death is next. It was a clever move to put FBI agent Jessica Winslow on this list, as that allows for a more “official” investigation of what is occurring to be documented, providing readers with important clues that will become vital as the novel reaches its climax.
Will anyone on this list survive? What is the mysterious connection between them that has made them a killer’s target?
Peter Swanson’s writing style in Nine Lives is sparse, which really helps to keep the pages turning. For some, this will be a one-sitting read – largely motivated by wanting to know why. How successful that ending is will depend on each individual reader and their views on motive. Rest assured that all is revealed, but readers should not expect a mind-blowing twist at the end. This novel does not need that and Swanson – who is known for his unpredicted resolutions – is wise to curtail that prospect in this case. To most, the killer’s motive will seem unreasonable, but is there really ever justification for murder?
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.