FIRST BORN by Will Dean

FIRST BORN

Will Dean

Hodder & Stoughton (hodder.co.uk)

£14.99

Buy a copy from your favourite independent bookshop

Molly Raven lives her life assessing and avoiding risks wherever possible. One half of a pair of identical twins, Molly feels that she is the darker of the two, the twin who ended up with all of the negative attributes, while her sister Katie – or KT, as Molly calls her – is the happy, outgoing type, a mirror image to Molly’s personality despite their shared DNA. When Molly receives a call from her parents telling her that Katie has been murdered in her New York apartment, Molly takes her first flight – despite the dangers involved – to be with her family, and to help the police find her sister’s killer. As she tries to get inside her sister’s head, she meets the people who were closest to her since her move from England a year earlier. One of these people, she is convinced, is a murderer, and she is determined to find out which one before she has to return home.

Sometimes I feel the I am a false positive.
Not sometimes. For at least eighteen of the past twenty-two years. Since I was four years old. That’s when I realised two important things in life. First: there are no such things as identical twins. Second: the universe conspires to trip you up.

Will Dean has become something of a force of nature since his 2017 debut, Dark Pines. We can’t get enough of his Tuva Moodyson books and last year’s standalone debut from Hodder, The Last Thing to Burn, proved that there was much more to the Wild Man of the Moose Forest than his deaf reporter and her beat in Sweden’s wilderness. First Born is another standalone, and shows yet another side to this versatile and brilliant author.

From the outset, we find ourselves in the head of Molly Raven, as we follow her first-person account of the book’s events. Molly is constantly aware of the risks around her – regardless of how likely they are, one risk is treated equally to all others – and does as mch as she can to mitigate those risks, whether it’s carrying a knife in case someone tries to attack her, or keeping a supply of canned food and bottled water in case someone sets off a dirty bomb in the vicinity. Molly is a no-nonsense type, and there are times when her directness and inability – or lack of desire – to place a filter between brain and mouth sometimes make her quite unlikable, bearing more than a little resemblance to Tuva Moodyson. This is her first excursion outside the comfort of Britain, and she finds herself in, arguably, one of the greatest cities on the planet. Where you or I would be staring, agog, at our surroundings, Molly is planning for the worst, and trying to work out what supplies she needs to have, just in case. We get a sense that our guide is something of a loner, a person with no real friends, whose only connection to the rest of the world is through the person with whom she shared the womb, a sort of Ms Hyde to Katie’s Doctor Jekyll.

At the heart of First Born is the mystery of Katie’s death, and Molly plays amateur sleuth, trying to help the NYPD as much as possible, while also attracting attention from less-savoury characters. It isn’t long before we have a list of suspects as long as our arm, and we start to get the niggling doubt that Molly may not be the most reliable narrator. She is clearly, for want of a better word, unhinged and, while she has just lost the person to whom she is closest in the world, some of her actions seem questionable when we get time to stop and think about them.

First Born is, without a doubt, Will Dean’s most ambitious novel to date. Less linear and more complex than anything that has come before, it is, thankfully, no less enjoyable. It’s a clever, twisted puzzle that will keep you guessing right to the end. Like all of Dean’s novels so far, this one comes with a strong female protagonist, and highlights the author’s skill in creating strong, believable women who can get under our skin in one way or another.

Forget what you thought you knew about Will Dean from reading the Tuva Moodyson novels. Forget the Will Dean of The Last Thing to Burn. First Born is like no crime novel you’ve read before, and showcases a talented, versatile author at the height of his powers. An instant classic, this is a book designed to keep you on your toes, and nothing will come between you and the next chapter. Gripping and insightful, it’s Will Dean’s best novel to date, one more masterpiece from a writer who gets stronger and more confident with each book. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!

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