A reality TV star grieves over the death of his best friend and increasingly suspects foul play in this novel.
In 2025, Jason Debord stars on the TV show Beached, a Survivor-like competition that pits contestants against one another on a remote island, with each vying to be the last one remaining. During its taping, he forges a close friendship with Billy Gerding, and the pair form an alliance on the show, based on strategy and mutual trust. Then Billy suddenly and mysteriously dies, and the producers quickly say that it was a suicide. Jason feels anguish over the loss, but also nagging suspicions that Billy’s death wasn’t accidental. Debut author Hacker convincingly portrays his protagonist’s inner turmoil. Jason thinks that maybe he was killed by another contestant—and Nick, the “villain of the season,” is the prime suspect in this theory. Or maybe the network conspired to kill Billy, he thinks—although this hypothesis lacks a likely motive. Jason gradually reveals his concerns to all who know him—he even contacts Billy’s estranged sister, Emily—but his anxious musings are generally dismissed as flights of fancy. However, he simply can’t let the issue drop—especially after someone breaks into his home, and an aggressive driver forces him off the road. Meanwhile, Jason’s psychiatrist girlfriend Blake becomes increasingly concerned for his mental health. Then Jason uncovers evidence of a larger criminal conspiracy. Over the course of the story, Hacker cleverly shifts between various modes of narration—Jason’s journal entries, phone calls, and text exchanges, as well as third-person omniscience, and this stylistic choice allows the author to deftly compare a range of different perspectives. As a result, the novel artfully keeps the reader in a state of indecision, as Jason sometimes seems unhinged, but at other times perfectly rational. The overall pace of the plot is much too slow, however, and some readers may well tire of the tale about two-thirds of the way through. But overall, this whodunit is intelligently conceived and well-executed.
A mystery that thoughtfully reflects on the hazy line between suspicion and reckless mania.