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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Kill the Next One

Federico Axat

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To purchase Kill the Next One

Title: Kill the Next One
Author: Federico Axat
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 403 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Kill the Next One - US
La última salida - US
Kill the Next One - UK
Kill the Next One - Canada
L'Opossum rose - France
Mysterium - Deutschland
Un altro da uccidere - Italia
La última salida - España
  • Spanish title: La última salida
  • Translated by David Frye

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Our Assessment:

B : well-twisted psychological thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/12/2016 Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly A+ 3/10/2016 .
USA Today C 24/12/2016 Patty Rhule

  From the Reviews:
  • "Truth, illusion and downright deceit keep crossing invisible lines in this hallucinatory plot, so it becomes easy to lose focus on who’s who and what’s what. The shape-shifting characters and fantastic events keep sending McKay to his therapist (and us to ours) for clarification." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Nightmare imagery, mind-bending plot twists, and a kaleidoscopic storytelling style lend Axat’s tale a vertiginous air, but at the core of this literary fever dream lies an elegantly crafted and emotionally resonant mystery that astonishes, devastates, and satisfies in equal measure." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Kill the Next One boasts a grabber of an opening sentence, but from that moment on, this thriller lurches from one implausible scenario to the next. The curious reader will plow through to see how the heck things will sort out, but in the end, it remains a puzzlement." - Patty Rhule, USA Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The original Spanish title of this novel is La última salida -- translated here as: 'The Only Way Out' -- but, as you can see, they went with something very different in English. Not only that, in French it's published as: L'Opossum rose (yes, an opossum figures in the book), in German as: Mysterium. What gives ?
       Well, obviously, publishers had some trouble in deciding how they want to present the book. The US/UK choice of Kill the Next One seems, at first, an obvious choice, the easy hook to lure readers. It's how the novel begins; it's how the book-jacket-blurb summarizes the story: Ted McKay has set the stage for his suicide and is now ready to pull the trigger when he is interrupted by a stranger who has a proposition for him: make it easier for the family by letting someone else kill you. The stranger represents an organization which matches those who are planning to commit suicide: Ted kills one, and then the next will kill Ted, etc. The only thing they expect from him is that he off someone else as well -- a criminal who has escaped justice.
       It seems a bit far-fetched -- to Ted, too -- but there's obvious appeal to the idea, too. Ted definitely wants to die -- there's that annoying inoperable brain tumor he wants to deal with -- and getting shot by a stranger would probably make it easier for his family. And if he can see to some justice getting done along the way, what the hell ?
       So Ted goes along with the plan. He kills the bad guy. And then he goes to the home of the suicidal candidate, Wendell, and kills him too. Only he realizes at the scene that the information he got about Wendell wasn't entirely accurate. He wasn't supposed to have a family, for exampe -- yet there they are, showing up at the murder scene shortly after Ted kills the guy.
       What has Ted gotten himself into ? Can he extricate himself from this game of 'kill the next one' ? And isn't he going to be the next one ?
       Such are the questions that the story would seem to raise -- but, in fact, the 'kill the next one'-chain premise doesn't even sputter out, that's pretty much all there was to it. While still significant, this story goes in way, way different directions. Yes, this is a very different kind of thriller from what this version of the title and that premise suggested.
       Readers may well suspect something more is going on from the get-go: the timing of the visitor seems a bit very riskily last-minute (and convenient), for one, and even before Ted opened the door on this stranger who draws him into this would-be kill-and-be-killed world he finds a note on his desk, telling him -- in his own handwriting (even though he has no memory of writing it) --:

Open the door It's your only way out
       Yes, perhaps there's more -- and different -- 'door opening' involved here. Since Ted apparently has a brain tumor, you can see how that might affect his mental state -- and given that he's seeing some unusual things (a possum, occasionally, for one), that surely plays a role in what is going on. So it's also good to see he's regularly visiting a therapist, Laura Hill. Or is it ?
       One way or another, Ted isn't quite right in the head -- and Axat teases his character, and his readers, quite a while before he pulls back enough layers to position Ted in a way and place that suggests some stability -- some solid ground to stand on. Not that there's not a lot left to figure out, a lot more layers to pull back. It becomes more clear what's real, and what isn't -- but Ted still has a lot of fog to deal with. At least he has some help with that.
       Along the way we learn that Ted was a chess prodigy as a child, that his mother fell apart mentally (hmmm, runs in the family ?), and that he broke decidedly with his father (and with chess) as a teen. And there's an unsolved murder from his college years that obviously still looms large.
       Axat quite cleverly repeatedly upends expectations, at a very basic level. It takes quite a while before it's clear what is really going on -- and even then, by lifting the last curtains slowly, revisions to the interpretations of all that has happened, and especially what Ted did, continue to seem possible. Impressively, most of the pieces, beginning with the suicide-pact idea, and that bad guy Ted was charged with killing as part of it, eventually do fall into place -- though often not in quite the expected ways.
       With a protagonist whose mental state we can't be entirely sure of much of the time we're very much in John Franklin Bardin-territory here (The Deadly Percheron, etc.). Axat intensifies that by cleverly keeping readers guessing by also presenting the reassuringly real, with quite a bit of the novel -- and more, as it goes on -- focused on other, more stable realities (including Ted's past). The toying with readers (and with Ted) can feel a bit forced, especially in the novel's early sections, but once the basics have become clear it's relatively easy sailing -- and the pay-off is a reasonably decent one.
       Axat does like to rely a bit much on the more obvious tricks of thriller writing, including with a few too many chapter-endings that dangle a big reveal, and then cut away, the next chapter starting entirely elsewhere (though the reveal does eventually come, of course). He's also a bit casual in the treatment of his characters: as long as they serve a purpose, he pays attention, and when they don't he sweeps them aside. In other words, there's little depth to them -- he doesn't need or bother with it -- and so there's also little reason for readers to care much about them. So also in the final -- rather over the top -- sort-of-showdown, the outcome doesn't really matter, and readers would presumably be equally satisfied with a different configuration, as long as the last explanations were tied up.
       The writing is solid enough -- unremarkable, and occasionally, largely due to the US setting Axat obviously isn't entirely comfortable with, off-key -- and with such a focus on the fancy set-up Axat does neglect some of the secondary bits, the supporting material that needs a bit more fleshing-out and follow-through to make for a resonant story, rather than just a page-turner, but Kill the Next One is -- even with its misleading English title (but, hey, everything about this novel is meant to be misleading ...) -- an entertaining enough creative thriller read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 January 2017

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Kill the Next One: Reviews: Federico Axat: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Federico Axat was born in 1975.

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