Written by Oak Anderson — We have crime fiction set in every location on Earth, from Iceland to Ireland, Australia to Antarctica, but the one location that is rarely under the spotlight is the place we spend so much time, the place we all are now: the internet.
Perhaps the first crime novel to be set mainly in the murky world of mIRC (short for internet relay chat) Anderson’s book is something quite out of the ordinary. The crimes take a back seat, not to the characters or the investigation, but to the viral spread of the TOWY movement – standing for Take One With You. The action is split between the chat rooms, message boards and news sites transcribed in between chapters, and an unnamed city, which could be any city in North America.
The novel’s central figures are Charlie and Sarah – two loners who take their anger out on the world in different ways, until their paths cross and they fall for each other. Together, they come up with a way of getting revenge on a world that has never treated them fairly. The inspiration for these two disaffected teenagers to lead a global murder-suicide movement comes from a mutual acquaintance in a chat room discussing depression. The girl who goes by the screen name Clairebear feels that the punishment her sister’s rapist received was not true justice. After all, he ruined both their lives. Clairebear no longer has any will to live, except to take the scum who pushed her sister to suicide with her when she goes.
Charlie and Sarah are the first to draw the line between Clairebear and the ex-con horrifically injured when his motorcycle crashes at 113 miles an hour. And Charlie has his own score to settle. He wants revenge on his stepfather, who he blames for his mother’s suicide.
Suicide is always a complicated, tragic issue, and Anderson does well to not valourise it. It’s still a tragedy, it still affects those who are left behind. Perhaps this novel’s greatest strength is the understanding, yet unforgiving way it deals with suicide.
Interspersing Charlie and Sarah’s burgeoning love affair is another love. Officer Anita Hellstrom is going undercover observing Detective Thane Parks, a rebel officer whose unconventional sense of justice and refusal to brown-nose has stood in the way of his promotion. Thane has issues, but that doesn’t stop Anita from coming over to his side, and eventually falling in love. Before long, they both start to see a certain justice in the message that the TOWY movement is spreading.
The crimes themselves are for the most part alluded to, rather than described. Each chapter is bookended by excerpts from the media, transcripts of court cases, pieces of evidence and chat room transcripts. Here’s one of the novel’s chief weaknesses – names of real new organisations are used, supposedly to heighten realism, but to me this has the opposite effect. Using real websites and TV programs seems to set the book apart as fiction.
The novel is also more of a millennial love story than crime story. Readers looking for a teenage love story might be put off by the violence, and may have difficulty sympathising with the other characters, while many crime fiction readers may find the teenage love story/revenge fantasy frustrating and unfulfilling.
Despite these weaknesses, Take One With You is well paced, not letting the foot off of the accelerator from beginning to end. It poses some interesting philosophical questions about the value of life, but in the end seems to admit that they’re too big to be answered. This is an interesting and ambitious debut novel.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars