Peter Swanson's last novel was a fiendishly inventive whodunit that centered upon a copycat killer re-enacting "the cleverest, the most ingenious, the most foolproof" murders in crime fiction, from its golden age to the present. If "Eight Perfect Murders" saw Swanson channeling the likes of Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith and Donna Tartt, then his latest finds him drawing inspiration from, of all things, the Police's megahit "Every Breath You Take."
For not only does he borrow a lyric for his title, he also taps into the song's dark content about an obsessive, possessive lover — that is, until he unleashes his trademark twists and turns to take the reader in a whole new direction.
The book's heroine is Abigail, who, after only three dates, surprises herself by agreeing to spend the rest of her life with wealthy and successful Bruce. She surprises herself again on her bachelorette party weekend when she has a drunken one-night stand with a complete stranger. Discretion compels them to disclose their real identities. Instead they come up with false names for each other. He calls her Madeleine; in return, she calls him Scottie. "Vertigo," he says, catching the film reference. "If I recall, that particular relationship didn't end very well."
Needless to say, theirs doesn't, either. Scottie e-mails Abigail days before her wedding, stalks her in New York, then shows up on her big day. Later, he gate-crashes her honeymoon, checking in at the luxury resort where she is staying on an island off the coast of Maine. In moments alone, he implores her to admit that their original meeting was not random chance but fate, and that they are soul mates who are meant to be together. An increasingly unnerved Abigail is faced with a quandary: Does she preserve her sanity but jeopardize her marriage by coming clean to her husband about her night of sin, or does she try to deal with her unwanted admirer herself?
Her dilemma is put on hold when she sees a dazed and frightened woman in a bloodstained nightgown running into the woods one night. It isn't long before Abigail herself is on the run, looking for ways to escape but also to stay alive.
"Every Vow You Break" is not a murder mystery like Swanson's last book, but rather a psychological thriller. Some of the tropes deployed to achieve those thrills feel shopworn (an isolated retreat with no wireless and cell service?) but for the most part there is more than enough going on to keep us gripped and absorbed. Just when we think we have an idea of what Abigail is up against, Swanson pulls the rug away from under us. Strange events give way to sinister revelations and chilling encounters. The last act cranks up tension to the breaking point. Sit back, suspend all disbelief, and watch those pages fly by.
Malcolm Forbes has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Economist and the New Republic. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Every Vow You Break
By: Peter Swanson.
Publisher: William Morrow, 320 pages, $27.99.