Written by Angela Clarke — This debut sees a digital-savvy graduate team up with the police to find a serial killer who posts clues on Twitter. It’s a techno-thriller using the latest social media platforms and trendy apps to jooshe up the conventional murder mystery, for a fun if not wholly original ride.
Freddie is a wannabe journalist living in London, working in a chain coffee shop while trying to launch her writing career. She contributes a column on life as a student despite having graduated some time ago. Although the column is popular, Freddie is struggling to make any money from her freelance writing so after one of her more friendly editors tells her she must ‘seize the story’ she secretly follows an old friend, Nasreen – who’s now a detective – to a local crime scene.
With a punchy, fast-paced first act, Follow Me hooks you with ease, as Freddie and her estranged bezzie Nasreen race against time to stop the #Murderer from killing again. Freddie is a great protagonist, as wild and striking as her frizzy red hair, she’s an independent woman; funny, real and very relatable, especially to aspiring writers and/or graduates. And Angela Clarke has a lot of fun revealing Freddie’s character via her reactions to story developments through satirical, click bait-style headlines. When the first victim’s found dead in front of his computer, Freddie asks, “Was he looking at porn?” before imagining the headline – Porn Addiction: A Very Modem Problem. On working with the difficult DCI Moast – Horrible Bosses: The Reality. And on her crummy coffee shop day job – How Childhood Fairy Tales Set Generation Y Up To Fail.
And this is a Generation Y novel through and through. Although there’s a solid whodunnit plot bubbling underneath, for those who aren’t au fait with the web’s latest trends a lot of the references and incisive humour will be lost. This isn’t a criticism, Angela Clarke’s written a novel that’s thoroughly modern and acutely observed, drawing attention to our fetishisation of smartphone apps, short form content and Me Media. But it does raise the question – in the 21st century with all it’s Buzzfeeds, Twitters and Snapchats, is it possible to write a timeless novel any more?
Expansive, rhetorical questions aside, there’s great writing throughout Follow Me with picturesque turns of phrase, grinding tension, and an acerbic sense of humour. But beyond the cutting edge social media premise, the story does little to break out of the standard tropes and pitfalls of the police procedural. There’s the tough detective who’s difficult to work with, world weary and jaded by the job. There’s the placid, younger officer, Tibbsy, gangly and goofy to offset the grizzled detective. And there’s the two main characters, who were best friends as teens but a tragic incident caused them to drift apart. Now they have to overcome their differences, settle the demons of the past and work together to thwart the killer. This tragic incident is referred to, hinted at and mentioned repeatedly until of course it’s revealed in the climax.
This formulaic structure and the overly familiar beats, mean that towards the climax you may not even care about the two main characters. I didn’t like either of them by the end, but at the same time I didn’t loathe them enough to make them interesting. Freddie’s great to begin with, the classic starving artist, paying her dues while working a crummy job. She’s believable and genuine, funny with exactly the right amount of snark. But as the story progresses, she gets annoying. One moment she’ll be whiny, immature and opinionated, the next she’s cowering in fear of this horrendous serial killer. No doubt serial killers are scary, and I’m sure this is the intended character development, but the total personality u-turn didn’t work for me. She goes from petulant to pathetic and while I wanted to root for Freddie catching the killer, by the grand finale I was rooting for the killer to catch Freddie.
That said, the ending is full of conflict and suspense, the dead bodies are piling up now and the killing comes closer to home. The twists and turns in Follow Me’s plot keep you guessing as to the #Murderer’s true identity and the denouement manages to both surprise and make sense.
Follow Me is a strong piece of work, but after the modern, on-trend premise it struggles to fulfil it’s spectacular first act.
Follow Me is out now for Kindle, and the paperback comes out 31 December. For more social media-themed crime fiction try Luca Veste’s Blood Stream.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars