An offbeat thriller sets a serial killer loose among young swimmers in New England and tests the reader’s tolerance for textual quirks.
Countless sentences begin “This is,” as Murphy (The Call, 2011, etc.) assumes the voice of a preschool teacher to detail the world of pre-college swimming, where hours of repetitive practice are distilled in seconds of competition monitored by anxious parents. Murphy also presents the thoughts of swim-mom Annie in what for this woman is the aptly self-conscious “you” of the second person. Stalking all the damp, dewy young flesh is a serial killer who has been on a break for many years when he suddenly decides to renew his slaughter. Revealed early in the book, he is craftily tied to a handsome swim dad’s college fling. Other flings are mulled as Handsome’s wife, Chris, suspects him of present-day dalliance. She seeks solace from Annie, who becomes infatuated with Handsome between bouts of revisiting her brother’s suicide. As one slashed girl surfaces and more victims are expected, Murphy seasons the rising tension with humor, especially through a nicely sketched overbearing busybody who knows everything except how close she is to the killer. The author also manages to suggest with the repetition of “This is” the rhythm of bedside readings in childhood, reflecting innocence lost in more than one way for this unfairy tale, not to mention the constant refrain of all those laps up and down the pool. Even for readers who might still hear an annoying tic, the book’s other, straightforward writing is often more than a cut above the thriller norm.
Murphy sometimes recalls the exurban tribulations and titillations of Peter De Vries—albeit without all the puns—in a different sort of murder yarn that boasts twists in both the style and the plot.