London, Sicily, Huddersfield 2016–2017: Wen Li is a deeply kind and sensitive twenty-nine-old British-Chinese woman who suffers from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which manifests itself in an incessant, overwhelming fear that she might have murderous impulses. Unlucky in love and emotionally scarred, Wen falls for her colleague, Lomax, who is in love with a Sicilian young woman he met while working in Italy. He and Wen do share a mutual loathing of their boss who is struggling too – with a toxic relationship and his father’s refusal to accept his sexuality.
Told through interwoven correspondence, emails and WhatsApp messages, with the suspense around an impending murder steadily building, Countdown to a Killing is a deep exploration of multiple perspectives and points of view of individuals who are inextricably bound. The key themes of love, sexuality, ethnicity, mental health and acceptance are sensitively explored in a unique linear yet multi-layered and metafictional narrative. Packed with humour, heartache and a cast of expertly-crafted characters, this contemporary take on the epistolary novel will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.
This was a different kind of read to what I am used to, although I had read The Appeal written by Janice Hallett which is written in a slightly similar way through emails and messages, between the characters rather than the normal storytelling prose.
Initially I kept getting confused as to who was talking to who, until I got used to it. The premise is good. The characters are all either flawed in some way or just eccentric. You do only see one way of each conversation, so you glean how the recipient of the email or what’s app message has reacted by the next ones sent. The one thing you are told is that at some stage in the book there will be a death. But who? And who will be the killer?
There were characters I took an instant dislike to even though I had never read anything sent by them only the reply given by each of the three main characters. Wen Li is a twenty-nine-year-old British Chinese woman who suffers with severe obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this manifest’s itself in an incessant, overwhelming fear that she might have murderous impulses. Most of the time she keeps this to herself the one time she tells her friend Hannah it doesn’t go down well. Lomax Clipper is madly in love with a Sicilian woman Aurora, but it seems Aurora has some problems herself. Lomax wants to become an author. Wen and Lomax work in the same office. Both have one thing in common they can’t stand their boss Julian Ponsonby but Julian has his own issues himself, with a toxic relationship and the fact his father refuses to accept his sexuality.
There are parts of the book that deal well with OCD and the effects it has on Wen. Julian’s unhappiness. There is some humour within the book I did find myself chuckling a few times. Not everything is doom and gloom. There is a love story mixed in. But the main focus is the build up to the murder.
I did find this story dragged out a little as I waited for the murder to happen. When it did I have to say it was a little bit of an anti climax. So much build up to something which was told so briefly. However, the rest of the story became interesting as it dealt with many things afflicting many people in society today. Things such as self harm, violence, mental health issues, addiction, murder, homophobic comments. I only say this in case any are triggers for anyone reading.
An enjoyable read which was just slightly let down by the murder and how quick that was told, as if it was rushed in, in some ways I wish it had happened at the beginning and maybe the story told by going back and forth in time. However, this is brave piece of writing and it is written well. I will look out for what comes next from Tom Vaughan Macaulay.
Thank you for a gifted copy of the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Vaughan MacAulay is a solicitor and lives and works in London. His first novel, Being Simon Haines, was published in 2017 to high critical acclaim. The novel was selected as a Best Book for Summer by Alex Wade, writing in The Times, Law, while Justin Warshaw, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, described it as “a grand narrative of a young man on the cusp of the realisation of a dream.” Edward Fennell, writing in The Times, the Brief premium, asked whether it would become “the defining novel for [Tom’s] generation about what it means to be a driven corporate lawyer.”