The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson: ingenious and classy thriller – book review –

How do you like your psychopaths? Mad, bad, dangerous, deadly... or maybe just devilishly seductive?
The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson: book reviewThe Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson: book review
The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson: book review

US author Peter Swanson’s awesome, literary brain loves to defy readers’ expectations and in this stunning ‘semi-sequel’ to his 2015 award-winning thriller, The Kind Worth Killing, he harnesses all the familiar crime tropes and then performs some spectacular, mind-bending twists and turns.

Billed as a contemporary reimagining of Strangers On A Train, Patricia Highsmith’s bestselling novel, The Kind Worth Killing was a hypnotic, page-turning thriller written with Swanson’s signature fluidity, stylish assurance and awesome complexity, and steeped in malevolence, mind play and murder.

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And now he’s back to bewitch and bamboozle us with some of that novel’s memorable stars, placing them in a dark, compelling and double-layered mystery which is packed with suspense, menace and fast-paced action, and then liberally littered with clues and red herrings.

So meet Henry Kimball, a former cop forced to resign after a case ended in personal injury and catastrophe, who is now working as a private detective. His work is all pretty routine until the day Joan Grieve walks into his office.

He immediately recognises Joan – now Joan Whalen – from his brief spell as a high school English teacher and recalls that there was always something slightly dangerous about her. Joan remembers him too and wants him to investigate whether her husband Richard Whalen, a real estate broker, is having an affair.

Henry can’t help feeling ill at ease and just the sight of her stirs up a chilling memory of his teaching days when he was at the centre of a tragedy. But Joan says she needs his help in proving that her husband is cheating on her with his office manager, Pam O’Neil.

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But what should be a simple case of infidelity is decidedly out of kilter, and before Henry knows it he’s got far too close to Pam, the woman he’s tracking. And when he finds two bodies in an uninhabited suburban home with a ‘for sale’ sign out front, it suddenly feels like the past is repeating itself and that he must go back to one of the worst days of his life to uncover the truth.

Is it possible that Joan knows something about that decades old day, something she’s hidden all these years, and could there still be a killer out there, someone who believes they got away with murder? As the case rapidly gets ever more dangerous, Henry is forced to turn to the only person he can trust, the sociopathic Lily Kintner, the woman who once stabbed him but with whom he shares a peculiar bond.

The Kind Worth Saving is everything you would expect from this accomplished author... an intoxicating, double-narrative, cat-and-mouse thriller, packing more twists and turns than a snakes-and-ladders board and delivering knockout punches that leave readers floundering and floored.

Nothing is as it seems as readers are thrust into the unravelling of a creepy relationship and a marriage that may well be hiding deadly secrets and lies... a terrific tale of treachery, past and present, that can easily be read as a standalone because of Swanson’s absolute mastery at filling in the gaps.

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Forced to relive shocking events in his own life, Henry must unlock the dirty truths of some untrustworthy and yet utterly compelling characters, each dangerously calculating, each unstable on a grand psychotic scale, and each portrayed with forensic intensity.

With Henry Kimball taking the lead, and the smart and luscious Lily Kintner returning in a cameo role, this seductive package of elegant prose and riveting storytelling can be marked up as another ingenious and classy thriller from the master of duplicity.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £9.99)