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Posted on 1 Jul 2021 in Fiction, SFF |

MAX BARRY The 22 Murders of Madison May. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley

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The author of Lexicon returns with a new novel of multiple murders and multiple worlds.

‘I hate that you make me do this’, he said, and even as she struggled, she could see that he did indeed look regretful, like a man forced to put down a pet dog, one he’d loved that had turned rabid … ‘I really hate it.’

In this witty sci-fi thriller from bestselling author Max Barry, the murderer isn’t content to kill Madison May just once, but tracks her down in parallel worlds so he can kill her again and again. Felicity Staples, a reporter, knows there’s something strange about the murder of real estate agent Maddie May during an open house with only one, very obvious, suspect. She gets caught up in the hunt across the multiverse to find the killer and bring him to justice – but is it worth destroying her life?

The villain is first-rate, with a motivation that is as fascinating as it is disturbing. With the ability to travel between endless parallel worlds inevitably comes dissociation and the belief that one’s actions don’t really matter because there will always be another world … and another common-as-muck Maddie May. The world travellers think of themselves as being more real than the worlds they travel to, which is a psychological recipe for disaster.

The metaphysical logic behind the ability to travel is explained well, without being over-explained. Exactly how it is done is never fully elucidated and that air of mystery actually lends more of a sense of realism to the book’s premise.

Chapters from Felicity’s perspective are interspersed with those from the perspective of a different Maddie in the lead-up to her murder. Each time, we know what’s going to happen but  still hope that maybe she’ll get away or maybe the nice man who gives her a lift isn’t the killer, et cetera.

The different versions of Maddie are very well done. They are similar but also distinct enough to make it clear that it’s a slightly different person, but still fundamentally Maddie. Some of the choices and chances that led to them being different are also clear, adding another layer of detail to this richly imagined work.

This book has a lot to say about perspective and doing things for the right reasons, and says all of it well. It’s a joy to read (which may sound like an odd thing to say about a book with ‘murders’ in the title, but it’s true). Barry has a beautiful, fluid writing style and clearly does a lot of research. (Oh my, is that really how to buy an illegal gun?) One imagines that this book was almost as much fun for the author to write as it is to read (a few slightly gruesome murder-related details aside, of course). There’s also some social commentary in the characters’ experiences of a world quite like our own:

He’d taken her call, to rob her of the line District Attorney Tom Daniels did not respond to requests for comment by the time this article was published; now he would string her along until the next revolution of the news cycle, when nobody remembered the curiously lenient plea deal of James Hammond, a fine-looking college boy whose promising future was briefly threatened by an assault upon a girl who had laughed at him at a party.

In short, this is a clever and enjoyable book, with a satisfying ending. I wouldn’t recommend reading it home alone at night but it didn’t give me nightmares or keep me awake for the wrong reasons.

When I first opened the book, I thought, ‘This isn’t what I’d normally read’ but by the end of it I realised that it is fundamentally what I normally read – it’s a good, thought-provoking book. It would be a shame if readers who enjoy fast-paced provocative fiction overlooked it because of the sci-fi/fantasy elements. It’s easy to get too caught up in worrying about genres when it’s just about using different means to tell a story and examine the world. This is a good story.

Max Barry The 22 Murders of Madison May Hachette 2021 PB 322pp RRP $32.99

Amelia Dudley studied plant biology and currently works as a tutor. She is the proud auntie of many nieces and nephews. In her spare time, she reads, gardens, draws, paints and doesn’t get to do enough writing.

You can buy The 22 Murders of Madison May from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.

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