YA Weekend: Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: jimmy patterson (August 6th 2019)
Length: 336 pages
I first discovered the talents of Derek Milman with his debut Scream All Night, a YA contemporary dramedy portraying its protagonist’s complicated relationship with his quirky family. So when I heard that he had another book coming out, I was immediately intrigued, though of course Swipe Right for Murder is something of a different beast. It’s a straight up thriller, it complete with edge-of-your-seat suspense and action.
The book stars Aidan, a gay teen visiting New York City with his friends while on holiday from his boarding school. Bored and restless, while at his posh hotel he uses a hookup app to meet up with an older man. But soon after, Aidan wakes up next to the man’s dead body, seemingly assassinated by a sniper bullet through the window while he was sleeping. In a panic and trying to figure out what’s going on, Aidan looks around and discovers a huge sum of cash in the dead’s guy’s bag. And then there was also the phone call, which turns Aidan’s life upside down.
Suddenly, our protagonist finds himself on the run, not knowing who to trust. All he knows is that someone is after him, but he’s not who they think he is. In a case of mistaken identity gone horribly awry, Aidan now has a target on his back, and he has also become a person of interest to the FBI, who think he is member of a group called the Swans, an extremist LBGT group targeting anti-gay politicians. People are dying in these acts of terrorism and Aidan is trying to convince everyone that he has nothing to do with them, yet the Swans have somehow managed to trap him in their murderous schemes, making him an unwilling pawn. They believe he is holding onto a key piece of information necessary to pull off their next attack, leaving Aidan with no choice but to go undercover for the FBI in the hopes of putting a stop to whatever the Swans have planned.
For all this book reads like an unputdownable thriller, I was also excited to find a similar emotional poignancy and character depth I found in Scream All Night. Those are traits I’ve been associating with Milman’s writing and storytelling style, and I’m glad that’s not going to change anytime soon. Still, it took a while for this aspect to emerge, for when we first open the story with an introduction to Aidan with his friends, we’re treated to a heavy dose of self-absorbed, obnoxious teenage sass. Not gonna lie, I didn’t find the protagonist likeable at all when I first met him; he was annoyingly snide, shallow, and in short, a bit of a jerk. But as events unfolded, we’re also given occasional glimpses into Aidan’s mind, learning his background and what makes him tick. And I have to say the more I found out, the more he endeared himself to me.
As you know, I always appreciate a book about LGBT characters that go beyond identity labels to explore them as genuine and fully realized individuals. Deftly, the author balances this character development with elements of mystery and intrigue, creating a fast-paced thriller with a lot of heart. In between all the hectic action like the shootouts and chaotic car chases we still find time to get to really know Aidan and discover why he is so dismissive, aloof and full of self-doubt. The traumas go beyond growing up gay in a family and a society that’s not always ready to accept him, with roots also in his personal history involving a death of a brother as well as a tragic affair with a friend’s father that ended very badly. These events still haunt Aidan, making him feel lonely and directionless. Add to that the conflicted feelings he has about the Swans and their movement and you have yourself a very complex situation and a protagonist you can sympathize with deeply, and truly I did not expect a YA thriller to have so much profundity and heavy themes to chew on.
Speaking of the themes, Swipe Right for Murder deals with a lot of moral questions, including the costs of political and social change and the issue of extremist ideology. Aidan is put in a difficult situation where he despises the violence and death and yet he can’t help but sympathize a little with the Swans’ agenda. And then there’s the raw and emotional coming-of-age aspect of Aidan’s journey to come to terms with his identity, sexuality and matters of love. Suicide, depression, drug use, an underage affair—all these topics and more are touched upon via an unflinching approach. But rest assured, it’s not all somber angst and grit; as I said, the narrative is full of compelling thrills and plot twists, not to mention a healthy dose of humor and witty pop culture references to keep things light and flowing. I must have read the entire second half of the book in one session because I could barely tear myself away from its pages, and the ending practically reads like an action movie.
In short, Swipe Right for Murder was a fantastic read. I would recommend it for fans of thrillers, though I believe novel’s diverse cast of characters as well as its heartfelt themes will appeal to all readers no matter who you are. Derek Milman has impressed me once again, and with this novel he has cemented his status as a rising star in the world of YA fiction.