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Review: Nine names, each of them marked for death

March 14, 2022 GMT
This cover image released by William Morrow shows "Nine Lives" by Peter Swanson. (William Morrow via AP)
This cover image released by William Morrow shows "Nine Lives" by Peter Swanson. (William Morrow via AP)
This cover image released by William Morrow shows "Nine Lives" by Peter Swanson. (William Morrow via AP)
This cover image released by William Morrow shows "Nine Lives" by Peter Swanson. (William Morrow via AP)
This cover image released by William Morrow shows "Nine Lives" by Peter Swanson. (William Morrow via AP)

“Nine Lives” by Peter Swanson (William Morrow)

The elderly owner of a decaying hotel in Kennewick, Maine, is shoved to the ground, dragged to a tidal pool, and held there face down until he drowns. When police arrive, they find a crumpled piece of paper clutched in his hand.

On it is a typewritten list of nine names. Nothing more. But the hotel owner’s name is among them.

Meanwhile, in cities and towns scattered the length of the country, eight other people receive the same list in the mail. They include a struggling actor in Los Angeles, a college professor in Michigan and an FBI agent in New York. Some of them are men and some are women. Most, but not all, are middle-aged. They appear to have nothing in common.

The only name any of them recognize is their own.

Before long, another person on the list is murdered. And then another. Realizing it’s a kill list, the FBI scrambles to locate and offer protection to everyone left — no easy task since some of the names are common.

Mystery fans will be quick to recognize that the plot of Peter Swanson’s “Nine Lives” resembles Agatha Christie’s classic novel, “And Then There Were None.”

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Kennewick police detective Sam Hamilton spots this right off, but he notes that there are differences as well. In the Christie novel, the victims were isolated on an island, and there were 10 potential victims. He also notes that in the old novel, the killer was hiding among the ten.

This isn’t the first time Swanson has riffed on mystery classics. In “Eight Perfect Murders” (2021), a bookstore owner posts a list of the cleverest murders in crime fiction on his blog, and someone promptly begins reenacting them.

With his seven previous mysteries, the author has earned a reputation for ingenious plotting and a clear, precise writing style — and “Nine Lives” is no exception. And this time, he tells readers just enough about the lives of the nine people on the hit list to make readers care what happens to them.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”