“Standing at the edge of the mountain, I imagined what it would feel like to let go.”
I’ve always been a sucker for good first sentences, and that one sucked me right in. It felt as if I was standing nearby, sensing the fragility of that woman’s mind, realising that she could be contemplating suicide and that the invisible thread keeping her from jumping was very thin. Lily Moore’s emotional baggage would definitely influence how she would act and react all through the following story. So when moments later another woman is found dying of an apparent fall, I wanted to know how Lily would get mixed into it all. Because after all, a mentally unstable character that is pulled into a murder mystery doesn’t have time to see a shrink, nor to even take care of herself, and the events would probably cloud the thoughts a bit more in her already foggy mind. If that's not an interesting character to read about, I don't know what is.
Three months after the death of her sister (in The Damage Done) travel journalist Lily Moore (she works for Frakker’s!) needs a change of scenery. She gets an assignment to Peru, specifically to Macchu Piccu. Her best friend, Jesse, a photographer, comes along. Still very much into her grieving process, Lily gets involved in the mystery surrounding the woman’s death, and instead of getting as far away as possible from the whole case, she lets herself fall into it, bringing Jesse along with her. It is a metaphorical fall that Lily allows herself to do, unconsciously trying to rid herself of her guilt regarding the death of her sister, while at the same time trying to push it to the back of her mind.
From then on, every time Lily has an opportunity to get away from the case, something happens that keeps her involved even more. Of course, if she didn’t there wouldn’t be a book to write about, but Lily and Jesse fell on my nerves a few times in the beginning and I wanted to tell them “you’re saying you shouldn’t get involved and then you start nosing around to learn more, well live with the consequences!” The good thing about it is that they're far from being boring while they go through dangerous events, more than once risking their lives. The whole mystery seems simple enough at first, but as you get to know the secrets of the dead woman’s former husband –and of everyone linked to his bizarre family-- you become entangled in a web of incidents where no one can really be trusted: whenever you think you’ve found a pattern to it that will uncover the truth, it tightens a bit more and you realise you're not even closer to the solution. Davidson impresses in the way she juggles with many subplots.
After a very successful first book that received awards and great reviews all around, no one will say that Hilary Davidson took it easy for her second novel. With her knowledge of Peru, her descriptions of the places and of the Peruvians, she makes us wish we were there (even in the middle of a murder mystery). Davidson also creates interesting, complex characters (Vargas and his wife; Charlie Cutler, Lily Moore, and a few others) and only a few less believable ones (Len Wolven Sr and Marianne Wagerman) who are less developed and feel like caricatures. Fortunately, the many good characters are the ones who carry the story. Detective Bruxton, my favourite character from The Damage Done, is only involved by phone this time (he’s in the U.S.) but like a good supporting actor, he steals the spotlight whenever he’s on; he’s a hardboiled character who almost seems out of place in Lily Moore’s world but instead brings an edge that is usually missing in most lighter mysteries. He also gets the best lines. Here he talks with Lily:
“-Let me get this straight. You and your Okie pal think you’ve stumbled onto a serial killer doing business in Peru.
-We think he’s killed three women, but there could be more. One was in the U.S.
-So he’s an underachieving serial killer.”
And a few moments later in the same conversation:
“-By the way, you know what pisses me off about amateur sleuths? You think everything is like a movie.” That one I liked a lot because Lily and Jesse are often referring to movies and quoting actors, something that bothered me in The Damage Done (but less so here).
After Lily tells Bruxton that “Running away isn’t an option.(…) Besides, I don’t run away.” He replies right away:
“Is that your John Wayne impersonation? It sucks.”
A few coincidences in the story were somewhat implausible, like a couple of chance encounters with the same group of young tourists, but they are minor enough that they don't compromise the whole storyline. Davidson moves the plot along at a great pace but when she writes a few sightseeing scenes, where the reader learns about the local history, it slows down the story (even though the info is very interesting). Fortunately, Davidson never loses control and she picks up the pace nicely by connecting these scenes to stronger ones that get right back into the middle of things, usually even upping the tempo.
The Next One to Fall is overall a very good read, especially if you enjoy a mystery that gets out of the comfort zones of the genre, even remodeling it here and there (a cozy noir maybe?). Hilary Davidson is a born storyteller, a talented writer who reminds me a lot of Louise Penny; I think Hilary’s still getting to know herself as a fiction writer (she’s already very experienced as a travel journalist) and will continue to hone her skills as she explores further into characters's minds, as Louise Penny is now doing. Even though Hilary already received many accolades, I don’t think she has scratched the surface of her potential yet. Already doing a great job, she surely has many more good books to write. And I’ll be reading them.
You can visit Hilary Davidson on her website, follow her on Twitter @hilarydavidson and even meet her on Facebook.