If I Die Tonight

Written by AL Gaylin — Wade Reed is 17, an introverted boy, talented at art, who dresses in black and has few friends. Liam Miller is in Wade’s class, but they’re polar opposites – Liam is handsome and popular. Then, suddenly, Liam is dead, the victim of a hit and run in a stolen car. And the rumour mill says that Wade did it.

Gaylin sets out her stall straight away, with the opening chapter in the form of a Facebook post by Wade written on his mother’s hijacked page. It appears the boy has reached the end of his tether and the post is a suicide note. Maybe, for once, the rumour mill is correct?

The story of Wade, his mother Jackie and younger brother Connor is at the heart of this deeply engaging book, and we begin to learn all about them from chapter two, which takes a five-day leap back in time to reveal, gradually, what has forced a young man to make such a tragic decision.

Jackie has been bringing up her two sons alone in a little town in New York State ever since her husband Bill ran off with a younger model. Her boys are her world, but as they get older they are becoming less and less demonstrative and more and more difficult to fathom out. Wade, in particular, has withdrawn into himself lately and she struggles to get through to him. But he’s a good boy and she’s proud of both him and Connor.

Which makes what happens next all the more devastating. When Liam Miller dies, Jackie wants to offer condolences and grieve like everyone else, but instead she hears hurried whispers and faces hostility. Word travels fast in a little town like Havenkill and people are blaming Wade – could what they’re saying be true?

That ‘did he or didn’t he?’ vibe runs through this novel like Blackpool through a stick of rock, but a writer of Alison Gaylin’s skillset won’t let things lie there. Instead, she throws a rainbow-haired spanner into the works in the form of 1980s pop phenomenon Aimee En. That’s the stage name of Amy Nathanson and it was her classic car that struck and killed Liam. She maintains it was taken in a carjacking, by a young man in a hoodie who had been trying to hustle her to buy drugs and who then drove off in her vintage Jaguar… with tragic consequences.

Pearl Maze, an officer with the local police department isn’t convinced by Amy’s story and the more she questions it, the less it appears to hold water. Trouble is, Pearl is a newcomer in a town that likes to look after its own. Will anyone else take her doubts seriously?

This is a multi-layered tale that will keep you guessing, and guessing again. Every single character has something to hide and some of the revelations, when they come, are pretty shocking. The two mainstays around which everything else revolves are Jackie and Pearl. Jackie is a tiger mom, prepared to do anything to protect the children she loves, while Pearl has a past that she’d dearly love to bury for ever. Both have overcome more than their share of hard knocks; both refuse to be diverted from what they believe in – and you will love both of them.

Former celebrity tabloid journalist Gaylin is garnering a growing reputation for kickass psychological thrillers and we’ve previously reviewed And She Was. If I Die Tonight can only add to it. It’s slick, smart and surprising, with sinuous twists and turns. Go grab a copy – now!

For another gripping psychological thriller involving teens and a hit and run, try You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott.

Century
Print/Kindle/iTunes
£7.99

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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