Some titles are designed to be opaque. To tease you slightly. Perhaps to hint at myriad thematic concerns.

Others are less subtle and reveal an awful lot about the story within.

Take ‘You Are Next’, for instance. There’s a strong implied threat, but it also feels rather cliched and a reader might justifiably anticipate that there’re going to be plenty of cliffhangers, episodes of violence and familiar serial killer tropes. Tick, tick, tick.

What’s it about?

Martin Price, known by the police as JPP (‘Just Plain Psycho’) and to the public as The Dominic Killer, killed an entire family, one by one, after placing dominoes as ‘clues’ at their house. Detective Karin Schaeffer found him, arrested him, and subequently lost her daughter and husband in a brutal double murder perpetrated by Price after he escaped from custody.

Nearly a year on from this brutal slaughter, Karin has moved house, left her job and is in therapy to attempt to combat her depression and desire to commit suicide. When she is warned that Price has somehow escaped again, she refuses to go into a safe house, preferring to sit and wait for Price to finish the job he started. After all, she promised her family that she wouldn’t try to kill herself again; she never promised them to stop someone else doing it for her. It’s only when Price is breathing down her neck and brandishing more dominoes that Karin realises the terrifying truth: she might be next, but she won’t be last

Can Karin find the strength to hunt down Price and move forward with her life? Ex-partner Mac is on hand to help, but Karin’s fighting herself as much as the killer…

What’s it like?

Uneven. Dramatic. Ultimately a little too focused on the personal at the expense of the criminal.

Karin is an interesting character. Unlike many gung-ho revenge-seeking fictional characters with a similar background (crime fighter whose family have been severely harmed / destroyed through villains connected to The Job), Karin has sunk deep into depression and simply wants to not exist. We see her try Prozac, chat to her psychiatrist and calmly wait to be killed by the man who killed her family. She makes bad decisions and finds little joy in life. As such, she’s perhaps a difficult character to empathise with, but I think it’s good to have a protagonist react in such a human way to her inhumane circumstances. Although some reviewers have criticised Karin for her initial emotional state and lack of drive, I suspect in a similar circumstance I’d respond more like Karin than like (for instance) revenge-obsessed Patrick Jane from TV show The Mentalist.

Martin Price, on the other hand, remains a malignant but surprisingly empty presence. What drove him to his crimes? Why use dominoes as a clue? Why the obsession with game playing? We never find out anything really personal about him, even when we start to learn more about his background. This seems odd when there’s so much focus on developing Karin’s psychology, but Lief’s total lack of interest in who Martin Price might be is indicated by his police nickname – he’s Just Plain Psycho, so who cares what his motivations might be. And he smells funny.

We also never discover how he is able to stalk Karin so effectively or to escape from police custody on multiple occasions, because Lief isn’t interested in this. Instead, she wants to tell us a love story, as Karin and Mac work together, bond together, and tentatively work towards trusting each other. Never mind that Mac has to divorce his current wife in order to do this, or that Karin might need to find meaning in life through her own existence before becoming part of a couple; the romance often feels more significant than the crime and I did find that disappointing.

Final thoughts

There are some interesting twists as the story develops, which help to give the story a slightly uneven feel since there’re really two halves to it: first Karin is under threat, then her remaining family is. The pace in the second half is quicker and the twists begin to pile up. They strain belief slightly and there are some odd moments in the final crisis, notably the treatment of poor Mac, but it certainly makes for dramatic reading.

I already have the next two books in the series because I bought them all together from a sale, so for that reason I may see what happens to Karin next, but I’m in no rush to add them to my TBR pile. ‘You Are Next’ is easy to read with enough drama to keep you interested and plenty of surprises along the way, but I would have liked to have known much more about what made Martin Price tick.

‘You Are Next’,
Katia Lief,
2011, Ebury Press, paperback