kill friends cover

Don’t tell my hardboiled friends, but I think I’m getting soft in my old age. No, really. It’s true. Because when I was reading HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE, the new crime novel by Jay Stringer, I was more invested in the budding romance between Sam and Fergus than the sprawling underworld storyline that the romance is set against.

I’ll explain.

After the events of WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW, Samantha (Sam) Ireland and her brother Phil have set up shop as a fulltime bike messenger service and part-time private investigators. Delivering packages across the city on her bike, Sam has a perfect feel for the city. Both of her businesses are doing well. Phil is growing into the responsibilities of Sam has given him. All signs in Sam’s life are pointing to GOOD.

Fergus Fletcher is a globetrotting hitman who has returned home to Glasgow. Well known in his chosen profession, Fergus has his choice of jobs. When he gets railroaded into accepting a hit that he knows he shouldn’t, Fergus starts to go through the dreaded existential crisis that all paid killers fear: Is this all there is?

Alex Pennan has swindled the mob out of enough cash to fill five large duffel bags and the only way he can get away with it, and live to see the sunrise, is to have Fergus kill him.

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland. Its criminal underworld is about to be victim to a massive takeover.

And Joe Pepper is a very, very bad man.

Everyone in Sam’s life knows that she is lonely but Sam. She has had a series of meaningless relationships, and she has yet to really grieve since the passing of her father. Sam is surrounded by people, but is living an isolated existence. So of course, her best friend buys her one too many drinks and convinces her to put a video on one of those internet dating sites.

What Sam could never know, is that hitmen also get lonely. And are also on dating sites.

Now our story really gets moving.

13962927_10153625859121431_134299738591113749_oJay Stringer has set up a sprawling jigsaw puzzle of a mystery. With the impending takeover of the Glasgow underworld as backdrop, Stringer does a fantastic job of narrowing the focus to Sam and Fergus, but then widening the lens to deal with the McGuffin that lands in Sam’s lap that draws her into the mob’s takeover plot. Stringer plays with the narrative in short, staccato chapters that change points of view, often retelling a chapter from the other characters’ perspective. It’s a dizzying display of storytelling that serves to propel the reader to turn the pages and faster and faster through the novel.

It’s easy to root for Fergus. He’s a rogue in the best Han Solo tradition, but Stringer avoids the familiar tropes involved and really makes him a vulnerable character. You really believe that he’s ready to put the guns down and see where a relationship with Sam could lead. Ah, Sam. Sam Ireland may be Stringer’s greatest creation. Sam cares for her brother, her business, and her bike. The scenes with her navigating her way through a city filled with unforgiving cars are truly breathtaking. My only hope is that in future books the narrative is bit more forgiving: there are so many puzzle pieces to fit together in HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE, that the star of the book tends to get short shrift.

And it’s because of these aspects that Stringer has imparted to his characters that drew me in as a reader. This is why I read books: because if the author has done their job and given the reader characters to care about, then that is why we spend the time to see how the story ends. Characters are why we keep turning the pages.

With a bit of a lighter tone than WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW, HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE is a perfect summer read. A complicated puzzle of a plot told with a sure and confident hand and many nods to current literary trends; as well as a pair of protagonists that you want to cheer on. This is a book I will be recommending to friends. And implicating people.

Dan Malmon