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 murder in a rural setting. Statistically, these are the safest areas to live in and yet we read so much that takes place in what appear to be law-abiding places. Sometimes you just need to suspend your disbelief. Other times, the writer does good job at showing what happens behind closed doors. Eric Rickstad’s The Silent Girls is one such book.
In the small US town of Canaan, Vermont young girls have been disappearing. Private detective Frank Rath is hired to look for the latest missing girl, Mandy, whose mother is convinced she hasn’t just simply run away. The case has disturbing echoes for Frank who is bringing up his niece, Rachel, after the brutal murder of her parents years earlier. Now their killer is up for parole and Frank, absorbed in the hunt for the missing girls, also attempts to prevent the freeing of an earlier murderer.
Eric Rickstad is a very good writer which elevates this book above the average mystery. He manages to convey the isolation and brutality of elements of this seemingly peaceful country town. It’s a difficult trick to pull off the role of a private detective in modern times where police investigations are tightly controlled. He manages it by adding the personal element of Rath’s family history. The detective comes acres as both protective and vengeful on behalf of the girls he is trying to find.
The ultimate subject is a difficult one to tackle especially, I would imagine, in the US. I’ll leave it for readers to discover what it is as to say here would reveal too much of the plot. But he has my admiration for addressing it within a crime novel.
The Silent Girls will appeal to crime fiction readers who like a well constructed mystery that doesn’t shy away from addressing a complicated subject. Highly recommended.