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NINE LIVES by Peter Swanson: Book Review

An homage to And Then There Were None, with a bit of The List of Adrian Messenger added, describes Peter Swanson’s latest thriller, Nine Lives.

Nine people, seemingly unknown to each other, receive an envelope with a single sheet of paper inside.  On the paper is a list of their names in alphabetical order:  Matthew Beaumont, Jay Coates, Ethan Dart, Caroline Geddes, Frank Hopkins, Alison Horne, Arthur Kruse, Jack Radebaugh, and Jessica Winslow.  There is no return address, only a Forever stamp on eight of the envelopes; it appears that one of the envelopes was hand-delivered.

The recipients of the letter, if one can call a single sheet of paper with no salutation or signature a letter, have different reactions.  The majority choose to ignore it, treating it as if it was possibly meant for another person with the same name, while the others throw it away.  What no recipient does, at least at first, is to pay attention to it and regard it as a threat.  A mistake.

Those named are a disparate group in age, ethnicity, profession, and geographic location.  Beaumont is a married father of three in Massachusetts, Coates is a wanna-be actor in Los Angeles, Dart is a singer/songwriter in Texas, Geddes is an English professor in Ann Arbor, Hopkins owns a hotel in Maine, Horne is the mistress of a wealthy older man in New York City, Kruse is an oncology nurse in Massachusetts, Radebaugh is a businessman in Connecticut, and Winslow is an FBI agent in upstate New York.  They range in age from their thirties to their seventies, two are mixed-race, the other seven are white.  So what is the connection?

The first victim is Frank Hopkins, the owner of the Windward Resort in Kennewick, Maine.  Although it was a resort hotel decades ago, it’s now more of a run-down bar/motel and a place for him to drink without anyone looking over his shoulder.  Frank is taking his morning walk along the beach when he sees a white envelope on top of a rock, with a smaller stone on top of the envelope to hold it down.  As he gets closer, he sees his name on the envelope, and when he opens it he’s looking at a list of nine names, with his name one of them.

As Frank turns around to see if there’s anyone near him, he’s pushed into the sand and then the water.  As his head is being held under water, the murderer asks, “Do you know why you’re going to die?”  Although he answers in the negative, part of him thinks he does.  “It had to do with the jetty, didn’t it?” is his last thought before he stops breathing.  Thus Frank Hopkins becomes the first of the nine to die.

Peter Swanson has written another novel that is almost impossible to put down.  Nine Lives is a clever twist on a familiar trope, one that is both horrifying and, and in a macabre way, understandable.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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