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by Alison Grayson
William Morrow Paperbacks, March 2018
389 pages
ISBN: 0062641093

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alison Gaylin's IF I DIE TONIGHT captures your attention immediately: the prologue is written as a chilling Facebook post by one of teenage sons of single mom Jackie Reed. He announces he has taken a number of pills and plans to be dead by the time people are reading his post.

The story opens five days before the Facebook entry and is told from a number of different perspectives: there is single mom Jackie, who lives the small town of Havenkill, where she was raised. She juggles parenting responsibilities with her job as a real estate agent. She has never remarried and there is no hint of a man or other partner in her life.

Pearl Maze is an officer with the Havenkill Police Department. She is a young woman with a mysterious past that is revealed throughout the book. She had an unsettling childhood and is wary of relationships.

Connor Reed is the younger of Jackie's sons. He is thirteen, dealing with the rushing onset of puberty, a moody older brother, and trying to take care of his mom.

Amy Nathanson is the fourth member of our quartet. When she was a singing star in the '80s, she was known as Aimee En. We meet her when she stumbles into the police station to report a carjacking that led to a tragic accident where a teenage boy was run over.

The reader's attention is focused on Wade Reed, Jackie's older son, who seems to be a likely candidate as the carjacker suspect. An outcast among his peers, he is behaving suspiciously and refuses to talk to any responsible adult. He is definitely guilty of something but is it the hit and run accident?

The "whodunit" of the book was the unraveling of who was responsible for the accident, although there are side stories and themes galore: winners and losers in divorce, the impact of social media on bullying, teen friendship, just to name a few. Was Amy N. a reliable witness? What was her role in the crime? Was she a victim or a perpetrator? We learn early on that Officer Pearl has killed her mother: the spinning out of her story had me on tenterhooks.

The theme that I have found myself thinking about again and again is the need society has for heroes and villains. The truth seems to be that most of us, book characters included, fall somewhere in between.

IF I DIE TONIGHT also presents a troubling picture of the social media reality which for many creates the illusion of relationship. It is so easy to tweet, or snapchat, or even email something quickly and create a vicious cycle of attach and counter-attack.

For me this was a riveting read: I had trouble putting it down until the truth was revealed. It was beautifully written, every character was well developed and complex, the plotting was topnotch, and the reader had the opportunity to grapple with some important contemporary issues.

This was a stand-alone work, although I would not mind reading another book about Office Pearl Maze. I will definitely be on the lookout for other books by Alison Gaylin.

Phyllis Onstad has been a writer, editor, civil servant, teacher and voracious reader. She currently lives in the California wine country.

Reviewed by Phyllis Onstad, March 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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