Carrying out a canny plan to kill two victims plunges a man into a world in which events and characters, including his own, change like visions in a haunted kaleidoscope.
Whatever may be said for or against Argentinian author Axat’s American debut, most will agree that his thriller’s opening sentence is a grabber that will keep readers following along, at least for a while: “Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang.” Delaying his big finish, McKay greets one Justin Lynch. A total stranger to McKay, Lynch claims he knows what McKay was about to do with the 9 mm gun in his study. Lynch convinces McKay to delay shooting himself in order to kill two men in circumstances that justify homicide. The first proposed victim is Edward Blaine, a contemptible man who killed his girlfriend but went free from lack of evidence: McKay will be righting a sure wrong. And like McKay, the second victim, a man named Wendell, is contemplating taking his own life. If McKay shoots him, he’ll spare the victim’s family the trauma of a beloved’s suicide. Believing he suffers an inoperable tumor and therefore has little to lose, McKay takes the assignments, which play out in tightly written, suspenseful scenes. Alas, there are loose ends to the plans. First, evidence confronts McKay that suggests his wife and Wendell were having an affair. Then McKay is abducted to what appears to be a Boston mental hospital. Here he meets people he knows, including a therapist he had consulted to deal with his imminent demise. Pirandello-an twists and turns follow. McKay, in the reality of the hospital, learns he may not have really killed Wendell. McKay may actually be Wendell. And McKay may not really have a tumor. A demented possum, meanwhile, stalks McKay. As some characters launch into verbose, windy explanations of what’s going on, the narrative slows, and some plot turns become more fatiguing than breathtaking. The conclusion is nevertheless satisfying and provocative.
Fans of alternative reality tales will probably stay the course; other readers may not.