The Girl with a Clock for a Heart was an excellent debut last year by US writer Peter Swanson. It’s always good to read standalone crime fiction that combines a thrillerish plot with good characterisation. So I was looking forward to Swanson’s followup book, The Kind Worth Killing. With this second novel, however, Swanson has excelled himself and it was a surprising and unusual read.
Ted Severson, delayed at Heathrow airport, confides to a complete stranger that his wife is having an affair. Lily asks him whether he has thought of killing his unfaithful spouse and together they arrange to meet again to discuss possible plots. Miranda, Ted’s wife, is an artist who may have married him for his wealth. However, she has a few dark secrets of her own which threaten to scupper Ted and Lily’s plans.
The first third of the book is classic thriller territory and we follow the machinations of Ted and Lily in alternate chapters. Swanson is particularly good at giving us the background to the characters so that their varying degrees of willingness to embrace murder is explained. However, there are some unexpected twists and the plot opens out to other characters’ points of view and it is the second half of the book where the real narrative deviousness takes place.
None of the characters are completely sympathetic but nor do they feel wholly bad. Without giving too much of the plot away, it does become something of a bloodfest which is actually very satisfying. The Kind Worth Killing has a great story at its heart and the deceptively simple narrative hides some excellent plot planning.
There’s something compelling about a lost love returning to your life. Your earliest romance can often hold a special place in your memory and, in some instances, can blight future attempts to form a decent relationship. This phenomena is mined to clever effect in The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, the debut novel by Peter Swanson.
George Foss is an accountant with a well known Boston publisher who has an on-off relationship with one of his colleagues. His first girlfriend, his college sweetheart Liana, committed suicide during the Christmas holidays of their first semester. When George travelled down to Florida to attend her funeral, he discovered not everything was as it seemed and the memory of that early romance has stayed with him ever since. One August night he sees Liana again and this time she needs his help.
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is a lesson in how a story can gradually unfold without giving away too much to the reader, although it does make the book a nightmare to review. It’s clear from early on that George was taken in by Liana while at college, but the nature of the deception is only gradually revealed. Meanwhile, the modern day story shows early on how little Liana is to be trusted. The writer does a very good job in making us believe in George’s vulnerability. Given what he knows about Liana, it is almost incomprehensible that he can fall for her charms once more, but the reader is drawn into the duplitious world that is Liana’s ouevre. The ending was a little over the top for me but I was impressed by the way in which the narrative suggested that nothing is ever completely resolved. It seems more like real life that way.
Thanks to Faber for my review copy.