Nine people, seemingly chosen at random, get the same letter: no sender or return address and in the envelope just a sheet of paper with nine names. One of them is theirs. They have no idea what this is supposed to mean and react quite differently to it. Some of them are worried, others just throw it away. But when the first person listed is murdered, mood shifts a bit. When the second body is discovered, they get nervous as it becomes more and more obvious: this is a kill list. And the strangers will all be dead just a short time after. FBI agent Jessica is among them and she is the first to discover a possible connection: the reason for the murderer lies in the past, many decades ago, there must have been an event that links them.
“Nine Lives” is only the second novel I read by Peter Swanson after “Before She Knew Him” which I also thoroughly enjoyed. His newest novel, too, keeps you long in the dark, just like the police, you wonder what the characters might have brought on the list, how nine – why nine and not ten? – people spread all over the country might be linked. What I liked especially and what came to my mind immediately after starting to read, was Agatha Christie’s crime mystery “And Then There Were None” which is referred to several times throughout the novel. A tricky puzzle where the pieces do not seem to fit for quite a long time and while you still ponder about the reason behind it all, you can only watch how one after the other is killed.
“It wasn’t simply revenge. It felt like something much more than that. Karma, maybe. I had the money, and I had the will, to do what the natural world would never do. I could set the world to rights, in one small way.”
What I appreciated most was how the people reacted to their death announcement. Swanson created quite diverse characters who cope with this challenging situation in very different ways. Ethan and Caroline’s way of bonding over the shared fate was for me the most loveable story as I could relate to this most – just having the feeling of not being alone in it, of having somebody to share the fears and thoughts with, and somehow accepting fate or whatever it is.
There are some noteworthy minor characters – a wannabe victim, a contract killer – whose motives and points of view bring some new spin to the plot, too. However, what is most remarkable is the personality of the character who is behind it all. Normally, you come to hate a serial killer who takes himself for God, emotionally, I found it not that easy here, which alone already makes it a great read since life is never just black and white, good or bad.
A very cleverly composed plot which is not totally nerve-wrecking but full of suspense and also thought-provoking: what would you do if you were on such a list?