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The Next Time I Die
Jason Starr
Titan Books, UK, 2022

For some crime outside the boundaries, crime that plays with the genre and turns it on its head, Jason Starr is your go-to guy.  This latest, a thriller with threads of sci-fi, will keep you turning the pages as you try to grasp not so much WHO DID WHAT but HOW AND WHY events unfold.  It begins with a straight forward set-up whereas our protagonist is driving home, stops at a gas station, sees a man strongly harassing a woman to the point he feels he needs to  intervene.  But—last thing he remembers—the angry man stabs him in the stomach. He wakes up in the hospital to a worried wife and daughter, having survived the attack, but he does not know the daughter and is confused about how loving and caring the wife is as she had announced, just before he left the house, that she wanted a divorce. He's a lawyer, with a big case coming up in court in defense of a serial killer.  But, in yet another anomaly, his law partner knows of no such case. And, oh yeah, no stab wound on his stomach.   

He's told he was in a car accident so all assume he's had a trauma to his brain.  In addition, he has recently recovered from brain cancer—news to him—so perhaps a remission causing memory problems?   Logical, yes, but something more appears to be going on.  In a ploy to get out of the hospital, he pretends to remember his daughter and other parts of his life that don't match with his memory. This playacting on his part takes us further into the book whereas his confusion deepens:  Seems Al Gore is president.  “It's not Donald Trump?” he asks, as they look at him totally aghast at the idea. Also, in a moving scene, he discovers the Twin Towers are still standing.  He approaches with reverence and enters in joy. How can it be?!

So some things seem the same—his law firm, his wife, the year (2020) —but not in the way he remembers them.  On the other hand, many things are exactly as he remembers them.  Just when the reader might become a bit weary of what is and what isn't, voila!, he cracks that mystery. 

The serial killer he was representing—in his mind, at least—really is a local artist, he discovers, although with a clear criminal record.  But what if he hasn't yet committed the murders?  And if that's the case, can he stop him?

Crime enters the novel eventually and it's a fast-paced joyride to the end, weaving in paranormal dimensions à la Philip K. Dick.  

So for some wild noir that's as fun as it is gripping, pick up this book with its delightfully retro pulp cover, and settle in for a mind-bender.  J.A.


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