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Kill the Next One


Kill the Next One

KILL THE NEXT ONE is unsettling from beginning to end. It is set very much in the present day of this world, but its themes --- passion, crime, violence and perceptions --- are timeless. Even as author Federico Axat (with a strong translation from David Frye) explores the shifting walls of existence that surround his troubled protagonist, there is plenty with which readers can identify, no matter how untroubled (or otherwise) they may be.

We meet Ted McKay in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first page of KILL THE NEXT ONE, as he is in the midst of preparing to kill himself. His reasons for doing so is the presence of an inoperable brain tumor. His wife and two daughters are away on vacation; logic for Ted dictates that the timing is right to exit this world on his own terms without putting himself and his family through the final weeks and months of a terminal illness. However, these plans are interrupted by a knock on his door from a total stranger who somehow knows what he is about to do.

"Axat doesn’t just 'flip the script,' if you will --- he rearranges the pages, tears some up at random, and rewrites the whole kit and caboodle from the ground up."

The man is Justin Lynch, and he seems to know quite a bit about Ted, his family and his situation. Lynch offers Ted a deal. He proposes that Ted, who is very familiar with firearms, commit two murders. Ted would function as a vigilante hit man for the first, in order to take a bad actor, who got away with cold-blooded murder, off the boards. His second victim would be someone who also wished to kill himself and who had done Lynch and the organization he represents a service by...well, functioning as a vigilante hit man. Once Ted completes his second murder, he would then be killed by a stranger working for Lynch. Thus Ted’s death will avoid the stigma of suicide.

Ted sees the logic in this, but things begin to fall apart almost immediately after he finishes his second assignment. He thinks he is having hallucinations, particularly a group of them involving a possum that keeps appearing at random points. He also does some research on Lynch and discovers that the man is much more important to him than he originally thought. Furthermore, he fears that his therapist may be working with Lynch and his organization. However, the people who are deceiving Ted are much closer than he realizes, at least at first. But then it all changes. Everything that Ted thought he knew is revealed to be absolutely wrong.

Axat doesn’t just “flip the script,” if you will --- he rearranges the pages, tears some up at random, and rewrites the whole kit and caboodle from the ground up. Oh sure, things settle down eventually, and we get some idea of what is actually occurring based on what happened before. But Axat can’t resist coming in at the end and throwing just one more small but mighty enigma at the reader.

KILL THE NEXT ONE reminded me by turns of THE TRIAL by Franz Kafka, just about every word that Philip K. Dick ever wrote, the “Nowhere Man”television series, and SHUTTER ISLAND by Dennis Lehane, among others. But ultimately it’s all Axat, all the time. He already is a worldwide literary sensation thanks to two previous novels (unpublished in the United States thus far), but KILL THE NEXT ONE undoubtedly will break him through here, while driving readers round the bend.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 16, 2016

Kill the Next One
by Federico Axat