Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
It took me some time to finish KILL THE NEXT ONE. That might be because it is a big book (eighty-four chapters and over 400 pages) and written in parts; each of which ends on an epiphanic discovery that demands consideration, but contrarily – especially after the surprise at the end of the first part – because, I think, I became jaded.
Ted McKay is glad that the family are out one day because he needs to be undisturbed while he takes his Browning automatic and blows his brains out. He thinks that it is better to die now, than die miserably and incontinently of a brain tumour at no time of his choosing. Then the doorbell rings and he is offered a better opportunity: kill someone else who needs to die, and have a third person in the chain terminate him without the stain of suicide in the family. It seems reasonable – with the offence of murder excepted – bar one thing: only Ted knew that he was planning his own immolation. Ted begins to make his way down the rabbit hole of death, which in his case is a car trip out of Boston to Edward Blaine’s country retreat and the strange experience of discovering his children’s toys in the garden, and further trips to decaying office blocks in miserable business parks in search of his original visitor.
Of course, Ted is not so unintelligent that he does not realise that his brain tumour might be causing some of his visions but when the doctor comes, it is not as anoncologist but as a psychiatrist, and things go off on another path. In one sense that path is a dead end – a building which Ted cannot leave; why, I’ll leave you to discover – and a path in time, back to Ted’s childhood and to his youth.
Unlike Ariadne who left a thread to follow through a labyrinth, none of Ted’s recollections of his life can be trusted to lead him back to a real place. Crimes past and present are what Ted is to help uncover.
Federico Axat is from Argentina and wrote his novel in Spanish, but from David Frye’s translation you wouldn’t know it; I found no infelicities such as leaving distances in metric measurements, for instance. KILL THE NEXT ONE manages to add to the current demand for an unreliable narrator, even while section after section ends with a smashing revelation that what we thought we knew was at best only part of the truth, and at the worse just wrong. On the other hand, even while I was taking one of my pauses between readings, I couldn’t help thinking about this as the source material for a film, and my principle thought was ‘Cut’. As Ted’s progress brings him closer to the material world and the revelations are closer to chargeable offences, perhaps things should move faster.
If you can pick up KILL THE NEXT ONE, though, and not stop after the first part but carry on with the interest I felt then, you will find a clever and elaborate reconstruction of the life of a man warped into an alibi for others.
Translated by David Frye