The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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Reviewed by Harriet

“Okay,” she said, and thought a moment. “Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, does sound like the kind worth killing”.

This is Lily Kintner, who has just met Ted Severson for the first time, in an airport bar. Now they are sitting side by side on a flight from London to Boston. Ted has recently discovered his wife’s infidelity – she is having an affair with the architect who is building their new house – and is filled with rage and a desire for revenge. He feels like murdering her. Undoubtedly most people would try to talk him out of it, but Lily seems to find it entirely reasonable, and together they start to hatch a plan. Does all this remind you of Patricia Highsmith’s celebrated novel Strangers on a Train? Lily is actually reading a Highsmith novel, though not that one, so clearly this is deliberate.

So, with this meeting, begins a story with so many breathtaking twists and turns that to say any more about it is pretty much impossible without giving too much away. It’s a story with multiple narrators – at first, we alternate between Ted and Lily, then Ted’s wife Miranda steps in, and later we hear from Detective Henry Kimball. Sometimes we hear about the same event from two different people, and learn things that were unknown or withheld the first time around. To say nobody is entirely blameless hardly encompasses the revelations that pile up through the three parts of the novel. But Lily is really central to the plot, and, as you can see from the quotation above, her thinking is a little unusual, to say the least.

All this is taking place in nice, wealthy, well-educated East Coast America. Ted is a rich businessman, his wife Miranda has an MA in art and is throwing herself wholeheartedly into the design and decoration of the massive house they are having built on a cliff-top in Maine. Lily, whose father is a celebrated novelist, is an archivist at a small college not far from Boston. These are cultured, pleasant people, whom you’d enjoy talking to over drinks or dinner. Does this make it more shocking, or more surprising, that so many uncontrollable passions are seething around under the surfaces of their minds? No – why should it? Money and sex, the prime movers for the crimes that are committed here, are no respecters of education or social class.

The Kind Worth Killing is only Peter Swanson’s second novel. His debut, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, was extremely well received and I imagine readers will be equally impressed with this one. It’s a great psychological thriller, one which delivers numerous shocks all the way through and saves a huge one up for the final paragraph. I whizzed through it, loving every minute.

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Harriet Devine is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.

Peter Swanson, The Kind Worth Killing (Faber, London, 2015). 978-0571302192, 320 pp., hardback.

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