How to Kill Friends and Implicate People by Jay Stringer: Girl Meets Boy on a Crime Spree

Two days in a row where I use denouement in a post. Odd streak. Pretty sure I can guarantee I won’t go for three, though. Sorry for the babbling that’s about to ensue.

No, I’m not really, it’s what happens when I get excited.

How To Kill Friends And Implicate PeopleHow To Kill Friends And Implicate People

by Jay Stringer
Series: Sam Ireland Mysteries, #2
Kindle Edition, 404 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2016
Read: May 30 – 31, 2019

I can’t pretend that everybody I’ve killed has been a bad egg. I can’t even say they all had it coming. But you want the real truth? We could all be said to have it coming. Write down the worst things you’ve ever done. Just the top ten. The silent little moments of guilt sitting at the back of your eyes in the bathroom mirror.

Did you break someone’s heart? Were you a bad husband or wife? Lousy mother or father? Was there a time you stole some money from the till at work? Maybe you just cheated on a test. We’ve all done things. One day, these things might come to the attention of the wrong person, and you get me knocking on your door.

Morals have to be flexible when you’re self-employed. Sometimes I can turn jobs down if I think they’re shady, but I’ve still got bills to pay.

This is coming a couple of weeks later than I intended to write it — mostly because I was trying to get my thoughts in order (yeah, also busy, tired, etc., etc. — but largely the getting my head wrapped around it bit). I didn’t know how it could live up to it’s predecessor and then knowing it, I had a hard time knowing how to compare the two; I couldn’t decide what was safe to talk about; I’m not sure what I can say about the ending; one of the events of this novel shocked me in ways authors almost never succeed at, and I’m still recovering (this is a good thing — but I still kind of hate Stringer for it). Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve decided any of these things, but I don’t want to not talk about this anymore.

One of the best parts of Ways to Die in Glasgow was the three first-person narrator structure, and I wondered how Stringer was going to approach this one, given that two of those narrators were unavailable. I was happy to see that he simply replaced them with another two — and relieved that it was as successful, if not more so, in these pages.

I couldn’t help thinking of the opening to Fletch (one of my favorite first chapters ever) as I got into this one. In Fletch, Alan Stanwyk hires Fletch to kill him — supposedly to prevent him from dying a painful death from a rare form of cancer. This job offer sends Fletch off on a great investigation that results in an ending Stanwyk couldn’t have predicted. Here, a businessman who makes Stanwyk look ethical, named Alex Pennan hires hitman Fergus Fletcher* to pretend to kill him. He’s done some very bad things, and some very, very bad people are going to want to do very, very, very bad things to him — the only escape is to die (but not really). Fergus knows this is a bad idea — but it’s such a bad idea that he’s interested.

* A connection I just now made — wow, I’m dense sometimes

Fergus is at something of a crossroads — he’s not sure that being a hitman is the right thing for him anymore. It’s not like he’s received “a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever” or anything — but it’s similar. He’s lost the taste for it, he’s making sloppy mistakes. Maybe, just maybe, not killing someone would be a great way to get out of the business.

Alex and Fergus are our two new narrators — and they have very different takes on their deal, and how things unfold. This alone would be worth reading — but it gets better, because I haven’t talked about Sam Ireland — part-time PI, part-time bicycle messenger, and all around great character — our other narrator yet. Alex’s wife knows he’s up to something sketchy, and hires Sam to prove that he’s having an affair. Also, Sam and Fergus have recently met on a dating app (neither is incredibly up front about their careers for their own reasons). So you see — things are getting even more interesting.

Now, add in the very, very bad people that Alex wants to fool, the people that employed Fergus while he made some sloppy mistakes, some crooked cops, one very not-crooked cop, Alex’s wife, Fergus’ family, a footballer, a couple of shady politicians, a best-selling crime novel that keeps showing up everywhere, and a few other folks — and you’ve got yourself a Grade-A Kerfuffle of Epic Proportions. I really can’t say more than that — but I want to, it’s a great roller-coaster of a ride that you’ll enjoy while you hang on for dear life.

Alex is a great character — he’s thoroughly convinced that he’s smarter than he is — which doesn’t mean he’s not going to get away with his plan. He’s got big dreams and will do anything — anything — to achieve them. But, wow, he’s such a lousy person — you find yourself spending a lot of time hoping that Fergus messes up and actually kills him. Fergus, meanwhile, is objectively a reprehensible person — he’s a very successful hitman, after all — you should want him dead or rotting away in prison. But you won’t — you’ll be cheering him on, hoping he gets the chance to figure out his next career steps.

And Sam? If you’ve read, Ways to Die in Glasgow, you know all you know everything you need to about Sam.

I want to devote a post or two to Sam’s brother and his cockamamie thoughts and observations on comic books. But to do that, I’d end up ruining the reading experience, so I’ll keep my powder dry. But Phil made me rethink Jor-El’s efforts to save Kal-El and Krypton, and made me laugh audibly while doing so. His ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to his newsletter.

While I’d never pretend to be able to predict everything that happens in various books — to an extent, you kind of can after awhile. Right? Even when we say to each other “I never saw X coming” — in retrospect, you usually can see where X came from. The number of stunning, out of left field, I cannot believe Author Y did that moments are few and far between — maybe a dozen in the past five years. I know the only one that comes to mind in recent memory is John Mars’ Her Last Move which left me a reeling for days last November. Stringer did that to me here, I so strongly disbelieved what I’d read that I re-read a particular passage four times before moving on — only to come back a couple of pages later to try it a couple of more times. Surely it had to be what a pretty unreliable narrator perceived to have happened, not what really happened.

For those of you keeping score — this is the book that got me in a hopeful and cheery mood moments before Noelle Holten shattered it. But don’t infer from that an ending that doesn’t exist — this is one of the most complex denouements I can remember — following shortly after one of the more exciting climaxes I’ve read this year. I remember walking into another room to read the last 15 percent or so, because I could not — would not — tolerate any distractions. Not that my kids and dog were being more distracting than usual, but it was that kind of ending (and really, my dog’s half-pug, so simply breathing is frequently a distracting behavior…). It’s that kind of a read — you will laugh; you may find yourself rooting for the boy in his crime spree to get the girl; you will find your jaw hanging open (even is — especially if — you’re not the type of person to do that); you will (at the very least want to) cancel/rearrange plans to make time to read; you will wish your reading speed was a little faster so you can find out what happens when Sam tries to (ahem, well); you will find yourself writing/speaking in italics more than you’re accustomed to when discussing the novel. It’s just that kind of read.

I know Stringer has a non-Sam Ireland book coming out soon, but I sincerely hope that he’s not done with her. I’m not ready to be.


4 1/2 Stars

✔ Read a book with “how to” in the title.

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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