Book Review: The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson

In this spectacularly devious novel by New York Times bestselling author Peter Swanson, a private eye starts to follow a possibly adulterous husband, but little does he know that the twisted trail will lead back to the woman who hired him. Read on for John Valeri's review!

Bostonian Peter Swanson is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels (including last year’s Nine Lives) that have been translated into thirty languages. Also a poet, his verse, short fiction, and feature stories have appeared in a variety of publications, from Asimov’s Science Fiction to Yankee Magazine. His newest genre offering, The Kind Worth Saving, revisits two central characters from 2015’s New England Society Book Award-winning and CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger finalist The Kind Worth Killing.

Private Investigator Henry Kimball—a former detective who aspires to write serious poetry but more often finds himself composing bawdy limericks—is approached for what should be a simple case: to confirm a wife’s suspicions of her husband’s infidelity. The client, Joan, is not a stranger to him; rather, she was a student during his short stint as an English teacher—a career that ended soon after one of Joan’s classmates shot and killed a female peer before turning the gun on himself in Kimball’s classroom. Her appearance rekindles a subtle sense of disquiet which blossoms into full-on suspicion when Kimble discovers the bodies of Joan’s husband, real estate agent Richard Whalen, and his paramour dead of an apparent murder-suicide. 

Believing the two events may somehow be related, Kimball finds himself mining his and Joan’s shared history for answers (not that she’s left much to unearth)—and wondering if his own failings could have resulted in future violence. The search leads him back to Lily Kintner, a suspected murderess turned unlikely confidante who nearly ended his life in The Kind Worth Killing. But as Kimball and Kintner endeavor to make sense out of the senseless (which includes their own odd yet endearing alliance), a new nemesis emerges, ensnaring Kimball in a game of kill or be killed. To put the past to rest must he be buried along with it?

Swanson tells the story in three parts. The first (“The Tender Age of Murderers”) alternates between Kimball’s current investigative activities and Joan’s recollection of a seminal summer holiday at Maine’s Winward Resort; Kimball’s narration is told in the first-person while Joan’s is done in the third, resulting in a juxtaposition of now and then that also mirrors the readers’ level of intimacy (or lack thereof) with the characters. Parts 2 (“The Third Person”) and 3 (“Dirty Work”) introduce two additional points of view, bringing the past into the present. It’s a substantive structure that brings increasing immediacy to the story as it rushes toward a (dare I say?) poetic conclusion.

The Kind Worth Saving is…well, the kind worth reading. While some of the author’s efforts (Eight Perfect Murders, Nine Lives, etc.) are as memorable for their high concept hooks as they are for the hearts that lie beneath them, this one is firmly character driven. Consequently, Kimball compels you far before the cleverness and complexities of the case(s) do. Taken in tandem, the two make for superior storytelling. More of a companion novel to The Kind Worth Killing than a proper sequel, this one will nevertheless leave readers wanting—and not necessarily for answers or insights but for the (not so) simple pleasures of the company itself.

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