Nine Lives, by Peter Swanson

NineLivesAnd Then There Were None is by far one of my most favourite Agatha Christie novels, so this contemporary homage to the concept definitely hooked me in! Nine people from across America all receive an identical note in the mail: a list of their names. None of them know the others, and none of them could think of a reason why anyone would hold a grudge against them. Yet, one by one, the people on the list end up getting killed. And the FBI is frantically trying to track down the killer before the next victim.

It’s a classic set-up for a thriller, and Swanson does a great job in introducing us to his large cast of characters. He gives us just enough detail to make us care whether a character lives or dies (one person in particular made me actively wishing the killer would move them up the list), without overwhelming us with so much detail we can no longer keep the characters straight.

I had a particular soft spot for two of the characters — a musician who was inspired by the list to write a love song, and an English teacher who lived with her two cats — and I absolutely love how the random experience of both being on a murder list led them to find, and semi-fall for, each other. I also must give kudos to Swanson in setting up one of the people on the list, an FBI agent, as the super obvious primary point of view character, only to prove me wrong partway through. While the novel does track the investigation into the series of murders, we mostly see it unfold through the eyes of the characters on the list more than through the FBI agents investigating the deaths. This adds to the classic, Christie-ish feel of the mystery, and just as we root for the characters on the island in And Then There Were None, we also can’t help but root for the various ordinary people who are trying to outrun their fates.

It’s a testament to Swanson’s characterization that some of the deaths made me truly sad. Even with characters who appeared for only a couple of chapters, I could feel the loss of their passing. The murderer’s motivation was as convoluted and personal as anything out of Christie, and while part of me figures I really should have seen that reveal coming, I applaud the author for keeping me genuinely in the dark until the final two names.

The novel isn’t perfect — the overt references to And Then There Were None got a bit too repetitive after a while, and a last minute reveal, while making the ending semi-happy, seemed totally random and unwarranted. But overall, it’s a lovely read, and I’d recommend it for fans of classic whodunnits.

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Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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