(2021) Max Barry, Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, hrdbk, 323pp, ISBN 978-1-529-35209-2
I’ve always been partial to a good interdimensional romp. I love the twisty-turnyness of it all, that savouring of the subtle differences between people and events. There are big picture opportunities in this sub-genre - what if Hilary Clinton won the Presidency? What if JFK survived? But it’s the small stories that work best for me. The now sadly cancelled TV series Fringe remains a favourite – similar versions of the same world overlapping and bending in to one another. Star Trek’s many forays into the dark and twisted ‘mirror universe’ aways fascinate, and Stranger Thing’s The Other Place shows very clearly that the grass isn’t always greener.
But 22 Murders isn’t like that. We never get to know who the President is, or whether the Brits managed to beat off the uppity colonists hack in 1776. Instead, we get different versions of the same people, as we follow a serial killer though the dimensions in search of his true love. Madison May, and not afraid to kill every version of her that doesn’t meet up to his exacting standards. Journalist Felicity Staples, investigating the murder of a real estate agent (one world’s version of Madison May), finds herself inadvertently shunted to another dimension, where one of her cats is missing and her boyfriend’s developed a previously unknown predilection for cooking.
There is a bit of hand-wavey science involved in the dimension hopping, but essentially this is a crime caper with a twist, and it has all the strengths of that genre: solid, intricate plotting, a tight narrative, great characters and a skilled ramping up of tension.
It works, not least because Felicity has to make some hard choices as interdimensional travel is not all it seems, since when she shifts from one universe to another she inhabits the body of her doppelganger. What happens to all those displaced Felicitys? If she effectively kills every previous incumbent of the bodies she inhabits, does that make her a serial killer too?
Fast moving and thought provoking. Great fun.
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