The Kind Worth Killing, by Peter Swanson, is a book worth reading.
This devilishly clever noir thriller could have been called “Strangers on a Plane.” It opens with a chance meeting in an airport bar that’s strongly reminiscent of what happens in Strangers on a Train, the Patricia Highsmith novel-turned-Alfred Hitchcock movie classic.
There’s even a reference to Highsmith on Page 2 that pounds home the connection.
But The Kind Worth Killing (out Tuesday) ups the ante by featuring not just one manipulative sociopath, but two.
The twist-filled story begins with waifish beauty Lily Kintner lending an ear as millionaire cuckold Ted Severson grouses about his unfaithful wife and the blue-collar contractor she’s sleeping with in their under-construction dream house.
In a moment of gin-soaked honesty, Ted admits he would happily kill her, if only he had the nerve. By the time their London-to-Boston flight is over, Lily offers to help him plot the perfect murder.
What we quickly discover, once we get inside Lily’s head (for each chapter gives us a different narrator), is that Lily isn’t the kind worth knowing. People in her life, especially those who cross her in some way, have a habit of winding up dead.
Lily was barely into her teens the first time she committed a murder. A scuzz-ball artist who had befriended her bohemian parents started making creepy sexual advances, so Lily schemed to push him down a well and bury him below. “Whatever happened to Chet?” she would ask one day — and no one knew.
Years later, after she discovered her first true love was two-timing her, she evened the score by serving him a plate of takeout chicken korma with poisonous cashews, revenge becoming a dish best served reheated in a microwave.
Each time, Lily got off scot-free. In fact, she was never even a suspect. But now the rules of murder are different: She has a co-conspirator who might not be up to the task — costly mistakes will be made — and her adversary, Ted’s gold-digging wife, Miranda, might just prove to be every bit as ruthless.
To reveal more of the plot would risk giving away some of the head-spinning surprises that make The Kind Worth Killing such an intoxicating read.
Swanson is a Massachusetts-based novelist and poet whose debut thriller, 2014’s The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, earned rave reviews.
Swanson’s Strangers on a Train homage in the new book appears to be a more commercially viable way of satisfying his Hitchcock obsession. On the side, he’s writing a sequence of sonnets inspired by all of Hitch’s films. He has already published poems about The Birds, The Thirty-Nine Steps and Rebecca.
The Kind Worth Killing, had it come out 60 years ago, would have made a great Hitchcock movie.
That said, the book will inevitably earn more comparisons to a contemporary work, Gillian Flynn’s phenomenally popular Gone Girl, because of the similar story structure (alternating first-person narrators who sometimes withhold important information) and because of their dark tales of ugly marital breakups.
It seems as if every domestic noir thriller published these days carries a book jacket blurb claiming to be “the next Gone Girl.” The Kind Worth Killing is no different. Author Joe Hill insists on the back cover that Swanson belongs in “the ranks of the killer elite, alongside Tana French and Gillian Flynn.”
But unlike most books that fail to live up to the hype, this one makes good on the promise, right down to the chilling final paragraph.
The Kind Worth Killing
by Peter Swanson
William Morrow, $25.99