4 star

Review: Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke – until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor.

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next….

This was another book suggested by a friend who shares the same taste, and so far, it’s another hit. I was originally going to give it a qualified 4.5 Drink Me Potions but I’ll explain why I just ended up erring on the side of caution. I had a good time reading this book, and it’s a fairly short one which is always appreciated, but you’ll come to see why I wasn’t entirely sure if how it panned out was good or bad. This author has great premises for thrillers though, and I have already started yet another book of his with an equally intriguing synopsis. We’ll see if Swanson can climb my list of favourites.

Nine Lives is the story of nine perfect strangers who are sent a list with their names on it. None of them have ever heard each other but all of them receive a cryptic note with just their names on it and nothing else. Slowly, one by one, they are picked off and killed. What is happening to these people and why? FBI agent Winslow is on the case, and also on the list herself, and why on earth has this madman targeted all of them? Is there something tying it together or just the workings of a deranged serial killer. Time quickly runs out as the investigation goes on.

This book plays with tropes in a very good way. I certainly had a lot of expectations for everyone, and I think the author did a good job playing to them but also giving me some unexpected things. The characters in this book were all great. Each had their unique personality and although it was difficult to keep track of their names sometimes, I think overall by the middle I was able to differentiate everyone and keep my head on straight about what was going on in the story. Some characters are likeable, others are easy to miss, and I think that gives a colourful cast for the story to work with. Especially when you don’t know who is next to be eliminated.

The plot was honestly pretty good. Yes, there are a lot of predictable elements so maybe if you’re just looking for the element of surprise it would not be a great fit for you. I read it mostly for the thrilling journey and (morbidly) wondering who would die next, and I think that this story really through me for loops and turns I was trying to figure out what was really going on. I think in the end I didn’t see the actual ending coming, but the basic idea of what transpired to get to that point wasn’t anything really out of the ordinary. However, I thought it was put together very well, and the red herrings were put in well of course; there was only one particular red herring which wasn’t convincing for me, but considering there were plenty of “throwaway” facts lying around, being only slightly disappointed in one really isn’t anything to complain about.

The suspense was great. I loved the fast-paced nature of this book, and how quickly everything happens and gets wrapped up. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like I wanted more details, and I think that is the kind of luxury that can be afforded by thriller books. It’s really all about the emotional ride getting through the book, and the little details along the way, as long as they stay plausible, is really of trivial matter. That being said, there were a couple of elements that were plausible leaning on implausible, so I had to take a few points away there. It wasn’t enough for it to completely detract from the story for me but I certainly had to think myself by the end whether or not I was satisfied by the ending.

Overall, the ending was interesting. I’m not entirely sure the message that I am supposed to take away from it was, but it’s certainly something to think about. I did like the way the ending and denouement tied up but perhaps it was too well tied up that the author added yet an extra piece to it. But like I’ve said many times before, the ending isn’t always something I’m too overly focused on. I really did enjoy the journey there and so overall I really did enjoy this book, and look forward to reading more of his works.

Overall Recommendations

Nine Lives is a story of nine perfect strangers who are suddenly on a hit list together. They all know the names of each other, but have no idea who each other are. One by one they are eliminated, and there is seemingly no method to the madness. FBI Agent Winslow, who is on the list herself, is investigating this case, as she comes closer and closer to the danger awaiting. Fast-paced and full of great suspense and twist and turns, if you are a fan of the roller coaster rides and whiplash of clues leading the scent trail left and right, this may be the one for you! If you are more about great endings and very believable plotlines, then you may want to look elsewhere.


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