Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Book Review: How to Kill Your Best Friend

By Jami Denison

I think author Lexie Elliott must have had much better friends in college than I did. While Facebook is the only way I've stayed in touch with friends from my University of Maryland days, Elliott has now written two books about a group of college friends who stayed tight after graduation, reuniting after someone’s death. Her debut in 2018, The French Girl (reviewed here), put her on the map; now How to Kill Your Best Friend presents a swimming-centered tale just in time for the end of summer. As usual, Elliott’s keen description and atmospherics create a compelling, although sometimes convoluted, tale.

Lissa, Georgie and Bronwyn were best friends in college in London, drawn together through their love of swimming. Lissa was the strongest swimmer among them, so how is it that she died in a mysterious drowning, her body lost to the waters of Kanu Cove? Georgie and Bronwyn, along with their old friends Duncan and Adam, attend Lissa’s memorial service at the secluded island resort hotel owned by Lissa and her second husband, Jem. But old emails from Lissa to Georgie, and hateful messages to Bronwyn, cast doubt on the official story of Lissa’s death. Was it an accidental drowning, suicide, or did the mysterious creature of Kanu Cove get her? Or could it have been murder? And if it was murder, then who’s next? 

The story is told in alternating first person by Georgie, Bronwyn (Bron), and an unknown narrator who muses about how to kill her best friend. While the narrative voice is incredibly similar for all three, the characters themselves are very different. Career-girl Georgie, now living in New York, feels incredibly guilty for missing the get-together where Lissa died. Bron, who gave up her accounting career to take care of her two children, feels incredibly guilty for sleeping with Lissa’s first husband, Graeme, who died after eating a cookie with nuts and misplacing his Epi-pen. And Lissa, as the best friends describe her, had a taste for vengeance. In fact, Georgie, who kept Bron’s secret about her affair, suspects Lissa might have found out anyway and killed Graeme in retaliation. 

As the locals who work there quit the hotel and the guests cancel their reservations, the four friends are stranded at the resort with Jem and Steve, Jem’s right-hand man. The pace quickens as Georgie is attacked and the threats toward Bron continue. Everything comes together in a masterful, visual climax that would work wonderfully on film.

Mystery writers from Agatha Christie to contemporary authors often use an isolated setting to narrow their potential suspects and trap the possible victims. How to Kill Your Best Friend reminded me less of Elliott’s earlier works and more of Allie Reynolds’s January 2021 debut, Shiver, about former Olympic snowboarders stranded together in the French Alps years after one of their group died mysteriously (reviewed here). Unlike Shiver and many other “old friends” mysteries, author Elliott chooses not to move between past and present. Best Friend is firmly in the here-and-now, and while I usually prefer the past to stay there, in this case, scenes from college or Bron’s affair or anything that showed us Lissa rather than told us about her would have been helpful in keeping all the threads of the story straight. 

One area where Best Friend beats Shiver hands-down is the ending. I thought Shiver’s was a bit campy; Best Friend literally had me jump out of my seat. In a book filled with twists, Elliott really does save the best for last. 

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Also by Lexie Elliott:


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