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Book: “Nine Lives” by Peter Swanson
Publishing Info: William Morrow & Company, March 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: The story of nine strangers who receive a cryptic list with their names on it – and then begin to die in highly unusual circumstances.
Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke – until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor.
FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next….
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC to this novel!
I’ve been reading Peter Swanson novels since 2016, in which “The Killing Kind” totally blew me away and kept me on my toes. I have come to expect him to find ways to bring in new twists and turns that are totally earned by also shocking and unexpected, sometimes even deconstructing what we have come to expect of the thriller genre as a whole. Because I have this knowledge and because I’m so familiar with his tricky little carpet yanks, one would think that when I went into his newest book “Nine Lives” that I would have figured all of this out. One would think that I would be expecting a twist and that when it came I would say ‘ah yes, I knew that was coming’. And hey, to be fair, there were a couple early on moments that I thought ‘well either that was the twist or perhaps there IS no big reveal this time just to keep me on my toes even more’.
And then this guy STILL manages to completely take me by surprise with a twist I didn’t expect AT ALL.
The thing that I like the most about Peter Swanson, beyond the ability he has to totally floor me, is that he always crafts mysteries that have just enough twists to be interesting without going into wholly farfetched territory. As each stranger on the list of names is slowly picked off one by one, the deaths are done in ways that are almost always matter of fact, totally believable, and in a finite and quick manner that makes the beat punch hard, but then go onto the next. We don’t linger on melodrama nor do we feel a need to explain until it’s fully time for explanations. The clues are placed here and there, and they all fit together once they start to near each other. And while it’s true that I caught a couple of them in advance, the lion’s share were truly surprising. It has definite allusions to the Agatha Christie story “And Then There Were None” without feeling like a direct lifting, and while acknowledging that there are some tweaks here and there. The mystery is strong, even if a lot of the characters kind of fall by the wayside. But I think that that is kind of to be expected in some ways, just because there are nine people on the list, and a limited amount of time that they are going to be alive given that they are all targets of a killer. But for a few of them I felt like we did get some pretty okay insight into who they were as people outside of this, even while others fell flat or into two dimensional tropes.
I have seen criticism of the motive behind what all is going on, and I can definitely get why the criticism is there. Ultimately the construction of the mystery is sound and it has very solid working parts, but the actual foundation of the motive was pretty generic and glossed over. It doesn’t really help that there had to be a huge ‘telling instead of showing’ component at the end, with a big letter that explains just about everything. That’s usually a huge splash of cold water on a book for me, and I remember thinking ‘ah jeeze’ when I realized what was happening.
But hey, I was still having a fun time as we barreled towards the end of “Nine Lives”. The motive may be eh, but the journey through a list of nine marked people is still really fun. Keep on catching me off guard, Peter Swanson! I always like being surprised!
Rating 7: A fun twist on “And Then There Were None” with a few good surprises, “Nine Lives” is another entertaining read from Peter Swanson, even if some of the details are glossed over or undercooked.