Do you know how common the name Jessica is, particularly for women born in the 1990s? How about the surname Williams? In You Can’t Catch Me, Catherine McKenzie poses the question: what if a con artist takes advantage of the commonness of these names?
The novel begins with Jessica Williams at an airport bar. A journalist caught at plagiarism, Jessica is on her way to a week-long vacation to escape the mess her life has become. A waiter calling out her name leads to the discovery of a second Jessica Williams in the same bar. Jessica Two, as journalist Jessica calls her, is fascinated by the coincidence of both of them being at the bar at the same time. She invites journalist Jessica to a game of Twenty Questions, to discover what else, apart from their names, they could have in common. (For one thing, they both share the exact same birthday.) Fast forward a week, and journalist Jessica realizes that Jessica Two has stolen all her money, using the information from their Twenty Question game (what’s your mother’s maiden name? who was your best friend in elementary school?) to impersonate her.
It turns out that journalist Jessica grew up in a cult, and the man who got her out, Liam, has major investigative skills. With Liam’s help, Jessica tracks down two other victims of Jessica Two: Jessie (Jessica Three), a quiet schoolteacher who lost her lottery winnings, and JJ (Jessica Four), a retired soldier turned celebrity YouTuber. Both new Jessicas have the same name and the same birthday as the first two. Together, the three Jessicas continue the investigation into Jessica Two, and plan how to take her down.
The premise of You Can’t Catch Me is, admittedly, a bit silly. As someone on Goodreads asks, why can’t a con artist just use fake names and fake birthdays on their intended victims instead of targeting women all with the same name and the same birthday? There’s also a lot of focus on Jessica One’s history with the cult, and apart from being an interesting bit of character history, why on earth is it relevant to the story of the Jessica Williamses? I did wonder about both questions at the start, then eventually just made the decision to sit back and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did. The good news is that both questions are indeed answered by the end of the book; the even better news is that it’s a fun and entertaining ride throughout.
You Can’t Catch Me is, plain and simple, a fun thriller. It’s twisty and captivating, and basically the book equivalent of a summer blockbuster. My favourite part has to be shortly after Jessica One and Jessie the school teacher set off on a road trip to meet up with JJ. Jessica One teaches Jessie the art of grifting (at a basic card game scam, and at a bar with a married man), which Jessica One learned from her years at the cult. The threat of Jessica Two still looms large of course, but somewhat overshadowing it is the thrill of the chase. Even though Jessica One, Jessie, and later JJ, are the victims of a crime, the narration is light and breezy, highlighting the exciting challenge of outwitting a master con artist.
The last 25% of the book is just dizzyingly full of twists and revelations, and suddenly, all the seemingly disparate pieces fit together. It’s a satisfying finale to an entertaining thriller.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.