In one of the most compelling thrillers I have read in years, Swanson presents a dark tale of crime, love, loss, and revenge that moves from London to Connecticut, Boston, and Maine. Complex and densely plotted, Kind Worth Killing is no ordinary crime thriller. Truly remarkable are Swanson’s twists and turns as he reaches deep into the dark heart of the human condition. In a plot that unravels like a venomous cobra, the novel hypnotizes and whispers, finally resolving itself in a way that only Swanson can.
Ted Severson has been betrayed by
his glamorous wife, Miranda. Ted sees himself as the rich businessman who has introduced Miranda to expensive wine and charity galas and watched other men fixate over her in bars and restaurants. Miranda is sexy, hungry, and primal, but she’s grown bored with her life in Boston and her marriage to Ted. Ted has discovered that Amanda is having an affair with her hunky building contractor, Brad Daggett, while overseeing the contraction of their brand new multi-million-dollar mansion in Kennewick, Maine. Ted can’t quite believe that he’s seen Brad “canoodling” with his wife in the expensive kitchen that he’s paying for.
As Ted sits with beautiful redhead Lily in the overly-lit and overly-padded
Heathrow lounge, drinking while waiting to board the same direct flight to Logan Airport, Boston, the words spill out of Ted’s gin-numbed mouth: “What I really want to do is kill her.” With her long red hair and lucid greenish-blue eyes, Lily proves to be the answer to all Ted‘s problems. When Lily playfully suggests that she will help kill Miranda for Ted, it at first seems like a bad-taste joke. Ted will soon discover that Lily’s offer is real and that there is nothing to laugh about.
From this tense opening, Swanson unwinds and rewinds his plot in a manner reminiscent of Highsmith’s
Strangers on a Train, albeit with a more modern, contemporary tone. Told through the competing voices of Ted, Lily, and Miranda, Swanson’s storyline is fiendish and unexpected. As Ted and Lily’s plan unfolds, Lily emerges as one of the most brilliantly constructed psychopaths of recent crime fiction. Lily’s feminine veneer masks a deadly criminal mind. Honest Ted is no less memorable as we watch his personality deteriorate under Lily and Miranda’s scheming. Even vulnerable, alcoholic Brad pops and sizzles with life under Swanson’s pen.
In order for a plan like this to work, the two parties need to remain separate, distant and out of touch, but Ted slowly becomes obsessed with Lily, falling in love with her in a way that
haunts and tortures him. As the two collaborators meet at The Concord River Inn for an afternoon drink, Ted obsessively reconstructs the night flight to Boston and the sudden appearance of this beautiful woman who wanted to help him murder his wife. Ted wonders briefly if Lily is insane, but he still plunges forward with her plan. Lily tells him that she will be a huge advantage, and that she can help him because she can be “an invisible accomplice.“
About halfway through, I thought Swanson was going to follow the predictable path: Lily’s machinations would finally be exhausted, and this might be just another tortured tale of unlikable characters whose fates are set in stone. How wrong I was. It’s not just Lily who’s the psycho. As Ted waits to get caught and “waits to feel bad,” he’s amazed at Miranda’s acting skills and her duplicitous nature. Even more conniving than Lily, Miranda has no guilt for what she’s doing with Brad, which only spurs Ted on with the plan. The thought “of doing it, and of getting away with it” fills Ted with a sense of gratification and power, but also with fear and sadness. He
keeps telling himself that his life may be “a catalog of sins,” yet the plan to kill Miranda is a means to an end: a way to finally get him closer to Lily.
From London’s cold dark evenings, to the rocky, windswept clifftops of Maine, to a young girl’s bourgeoning career as a murderer--a girl who survived the vulnerability of childhood and the danger of first love (“I would be the only person responsible for my own happiness”)--Swanson
crafts a terrifying game of revenge, infidelity and betrayal on a grand scale. Lily is a person who the reader believes actually
has to murder. Swanson’s talent is that he can place us deep into Lily’s mind and the circumstances that seemingly force her to do unthinkable things.
Just like the great Patricia Highsmith, who probed the inner dimensions of guilt within the framework of someone who has taken a human life, Swanson explores similar themes in an atmosphere of chilling suspense. Flawed, calculating, and perhaps a little sinful, Ted, Miranda, Lily and Brad will be indelibly
imprinted on my mind long after the final page is turned.