If you’ve read any of Max Barry’s previous works ― particularly “Lexicon,” which remains the gold standard for a rip-roaring, up-all-night page-turner ― you won’t need any prompting to pick up “The 22 Murders of Madison May.” The guy writes tornado-paced blockbusters; techno-thrillers in the vein of Michael Crichton, with the pell-mell velocity of Blake Crouch. His latest is another relentless genre mashup: a dimension-hopping psychological thriller about one woman’s pursuit of a serial killer across parallel earths.
Barry is a spectacular entertainer. But plenty of writers can conjure a high concept; a “what if” scenario. A select few are able to marry this with a cast of characters the reader cares about, that are developed beyond caricatures, or fodder to be annihilated in epic circumstances as dictated by an outlandish plot. The titular Madison May, for example ― the serial victim ― is fleshed out beyond mere prey, or a plot device, as each iteration of her is granted page-time to further establish her.
“The 22 Murders of Madison May” is a thriller of cyclonic speed and intensity. Barry has a gift for sustaining momentum that never lets up, and for creating scenarios and characters you won’t soon forget.
Available: 30th June 2021
Publisher: Hachette Australia
LEXICON is impossibly addictive.
Genre connoisseurs will identify certain thriller tropes within Max Barry’s narrative – high-speed chases, exaggerated and violent confrontations – but LEXICON is a cut above the standard fare; think of Matthew Reilly’s sheer pace mixed with the intelligence of Michael Crichton, but with a secret ingredient that is exclusively Barry’s. LEXICON is wildly imaginative; an ancient society known as The Poets use language to manipulate minds, and is responsible for the complete annihilation of the population of the town of Broken Hill. Few know the truth of what really happened – and those that do are the protagonists of the tale. Further details would be delving too closely into spoiler territory; suffice to say, as you’d expect of any thriller, there are many twists and turns throughout.
LEXICON flicks seamlessly between its narrators and the past and present. Once it gets going, Barry presses down on the accelerator and doesn’t let up. He allows his characters time to breathe, but never at the expense of the plot’s momentum. It’s a fine balance, and Barry succeeds. This is a smart thriller – but it’s not unintelligibly so. Barry doesn’t clutter his prose with technobabble; he inserts these details into the text without breaking stride; again, a wonderful demonstration of his talent.
LEXICON surprised me. I delved into its pages without expectations and was immensely satisfied.