If I Die Tonight
I can safely say that If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (What Remains of Me, And She Was) is one of the best mysteries I have ever read, and let me tell you, I read A LOT of mysteries.
The thriller unpicks who’s responsible for a hit and run that kills teenager Liam Miller while he was attempting to stop a carjacking. The residents of small-town Havenkill are shocked and out for blood to avenge Liam’s death. Suspicion falls on another local teenager, Wade Reed, who is a moody, solitary type – the perfect suspect. Wade’s mother Jackie is adamant he couldn’t have done it, but his little brother Connor struggles to share his mother’s beliefs.
Told mostly through Jackie and Connor’s points of view, this mystery is fraught with emotion. Jackie doesn’t have any doubts about her oldest son’s innocence, but Connor is wary. His brother has been different lately. Other key narrators are a police officer named Pearl who focuses on solving the crime based on facts rather than town gossip and the victim of the carjacking, a washed-up pop star from the 80s, who milks the publicity for all it’s worth. I resonated with Connor in particular. Connor has a good head on his shoulders and his point of view is based on real events. Even though he loves his big brother, facts don’t lie.
The emotions that run through this story had me gripped. I felt tense throughout. I was frustrated and angry at the community treatment of the Reed family, and sad because it is unfortunately true that people like to blame those who are different. I felt as though I was living in Havenkill watching everything play out in front of me. I went from being sure Wade didn’t do it, to thinking who else could it have been? just like everyone else in the story. Unexpectedly, it made me wary about how I see people – just because someone looks or acts a certain way, it doesn’t mean they are how they appear. If I could judge a character based on what was being said by other characters, what does that say about me in real life? This is such a confronting idea and such ideas are not what I expect from my mysteries.
Some chapters are made up of Facebook posts and Instagram comments expressing the onslaught of anger and blame by local teenagers and parents. We never read from Wade’s point of view, which adds to the mounting tension. This choice was a stroke of genius on Gaylin’s part.
The fact that this is a thriller lacquered in family drama makes it extremely relatable. I come from a not-so-perfect-family, so I could definitely resonate with the perspectives of Jackie and Connor. I felt strongly for Jackie as a single mum whose eldest son is targeted for being different. I think the familial crisis would make this thriller appealing to more than just thriller fans.
I genuinely can’t find fault with this story. Everything worked. The plot was well thought out, the pace was perfect, and there are so many compelling secrets. It wasn’t until I reached the end of this thriller that I realized Gaylin had been dropping hints throughout regarding the truth of the case. This truly blew my mind as I’m quite observant when it comes to clues in mysteries. This just reinforces my opinion that the plot is so gripping that I hadn’t noticed the details.
Overall, If I Die Tonight is the perfect mystery and I sank my teeth into it right from the beginning. I truly can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I finished it and I don’t do that very often with mystery novels – I’m usually straight onto the next!