The U.S. debut of Argentinian author Federico Axat, Kill the Next One, starts off with a genuine bang—or, more accurately, an almost-bang: “Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang.”
Readers venturing past the first intriguing sentence will likely experience a variety of feelings while tackling the remainder of this book, which features convoluted plotlines and blurry trips away from any grounding in reality. The mind-bending plot contrivances work effectively to heighten the interest level of this sometimes long-winded narrative.
The bullet-stopper of the first sentence turns out to be a stranger, standing on Ted’s doorstep. He unaccountably seems to know a lot about Ted’s suicide plans, and offers him a potentially more satisfactory way to achieve his own demise. He proposes a couple of—as he describes them—justifiable killings, with the final one conveniently resulting in Ted’s own death, thus sparing his family the pain of living with the knowledge of Ted’s suicide.
The book alludes to several murders, all of which initially point to Ted as the killer. The plot, with its numerous dream sequences, knocks reality a bit awry, and Ted winds up confined as a patient in a psychiatric hospital, searching through a confusion of dreams and a fragmented past to find the truth and determine just whom—if anyone—he can trust. Laura Hill, his therapist, sticks with Ted in his search for the truth.
Kill the Next One calls on hallucinatory sequences, including a sinister-seeming animal that shows itself to Ted but may or may not be real, labyrinths, Minotaurs and dead bodies that may or may not exist. In one of their many talk sessions, Ted tells Laura about his elusive memories: It’s “just bits and pieces, all jumbled together,” he says.
And possibly that’s true in readers’ minds as well. The book is constructed much like Ted’s brain, and that can be off-putting for some readers as they struggle to stay with the plot and maintain a level of interest in the outcome. Unnecessary graphic descriptions of animal torture are also a definite drawback in this narrative.
Fans of more straightforward crime and suspense may lose interest, while those who like juggling multiple layers in a possible alternate reality full of changing patterns and fragments will want to stay on to the finish.