Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf
I suppose, as one character said in a recent film, there’s really only ever been one plot that just gets endlessly recycled. The authors change the names and locations, and then get on with the craft of retelling. Without straining a muscle in my brain, I think it starts with “Shit happens!” and then we spend the rest of the plot finding out how everyone reacts. Some live. Some die. Some are lucky get laid before they die. Some get laid after they die — I suppose that makes it unlucky for the surviving relatives to discover the body of their loved one has been desecrated or lucky for the dead one because he or she discovers heaven is real and full of available partners. No matter how the sex thing works out, that pretty much sums up Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf (Permanent Press, 2012) and a pretty damn fine plot it turns out to be. Or, to put it another way, even though the plot may not be the most original on the planet, some authors can take it and turn out a really great book.
So here comes a little of the fine detail. Imagine a routine day. Your wife is getting herself up and dressed, ready to go off to work at the insurance agency she has built up into an impressive business. You are lounging around before making a start on your own work. You’re a somewhat obsessive, computer person who finds things out through your research skills. You go out for a walk. When you get back to the house you discover your wife’s car outside. Inside the house, you find a man with a gun. He asks your wife to write down the answers to five questions. She does so. Then the man shoots both of you in the head.
Much to your surprise, you wake up in hospital. The bullet passed through the brain and out through the skull. It did some damage but not enough to kill you. Fortunately, your sister is a doctor and continues the fiction you’re in a coma. In private, you start to exercise both physically and mentally. More importantly, you start to plan. This was obviously a professional hit. Since you had done nothing to justify this level of retaliation, it had to be something connected to your wife. Since you can identify the hitman, the choices are simple and limited. You could simply plead memory loss and hope no-one notices you survived. You could help the police and then go into witness protection. Or you could fake your own death and think about whether it would be possible to take revenge.
OK, so you reason that if you were dead anyway, no-one would be looking for you and you could quietly research who might have ordered the hit. Being a doctor, your sister therefore fakes your death and you disappear into uncharted waters. Over the rest of the book, you make some interesting acquaintances and one possible long-term friend. You also get laid without having to die for real which is a bonus. There are some enemies, of course, including one retired FBI operative who’s vowing to track you down but, on balance, it looks as though a man with your skills can not only survive but also prosper while flying under the radar.
Dead Anyway is one of these deceptively simple thrillers which zips along like it’s on fire and, before you realise it, you’ve reached the end and are gasping for more of the same. It’s obviously set up for a sequel. I’m already sold on buying it. Don’t miss out. While the impulse for revenge gives us some of the oldest plot themes in the world, this reads as fresh as if Chris Knopf just invented it.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.
For the record, this won the 2013 Nero Award.