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by Daniel Sweren-Becker
HarperCollins, October 2023
240 pages
ISBN: 0063321408

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A current trend in crime fiction is the psychological thriller that involves a reality television show, the Blogosphere, or the cesspit of Reddit. How do the ways that influencers and fans, producers and 'creatives', represent 'reality' impact, well, reality? It is a good question. Daniel Sweren-Becker's KILL SHOW explores it suspensefully, thoughtfully, and non-exploitatively, in part because Sweren-Becker turns for his generic conventions to a form of performance that predates the internet: live theatre. KILL SHOW is written like a play. Specifically, a radio play. A carefully crafted symphony of voices, KILL SHOW unspools its suspense plot while never letting the readers forget that there is no omniscient perspective, only a cast of unreliable narrators.

Sara Parcell of the suburban community of Frederick, Maryland is a violin prodigy, and the only character who doesn't perform in Sweren-Becker's play of voices. In fact, the sixteen-year-old musician is the only silent character. This is because, one ordinary school day, she went back to the bus for her bag and promptly vanished. Later, she was found dead. Sweren-Becker withholds exactly how and why. Instead, he pursues the results of her family's catastrophic decision to take part in a reality show called SEARCHING FOR SARA, which has the ostensible aim of finding Sara. This idea isn't that off-the-wall. Dating shows exploit people's searches for other people. AMERICA'S MOST WANTED was narrated by a grieving father. Last year, a reality show 'bounty hunter' made a big show of trying to find a fugitive, who turned out to have been long dead.

Sara's family consists of father Dave, who is in deep financial trouble that he hides from his wife Jeannette, brother Jack, and her maternal grandmother and home improvement store owner. The story is told by these people and their friends, neighbors, television producer, and a haunted local detective, Felix Calderon. His name is a treasure, reminiscent of Calderon de la Barca, the Spanish Golden Age playwright whose masterpiece is a play about a prince who has been brainwashed into believing that reality isn't real.

KILL SHOW's major plot mysteries are unguessable till the end and overshadowed by its conscientious characterisation. A lot of writers think they have something insightful to say about our toxic and exhilarating relationship with crime media. Sweren-Becker actually does.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, June 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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