Friday, 9 December 2016
"Follow Me" Angela Clarke
LIKE. SHARE. FOLLOW . . . DIE
The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.
But this is no virtual threat.
As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.
Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?
Time's running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?
It's hard to ignore a book with the strap line "Online no one can hear you scream." It's hard to ignore a book with a blurb like this. It's hard to ignore a book with an opening chapter title FML. It's hard to ignore a book with a main character like Freddie. It's hard to ignore your phone every time it pings with a Twitter notification, Facebook update, email or text message.
It's hard to ignore this story!
Angela Clarke has written a crime thriller which is so 'of the moment' it's as compulsive as our obsession with social media sites and living our lives through our social media profiles. This book is as loud as that dreaded 'ping' of a new notification, as vivid as the brightest filter on Instagram, as fast paced as a Twitter feed and as addictive as Facebook. It's so up to date in its content that it really is a book that should immediately downloaded.
Social media presents a whole new world for a murderer to inhabit and where they can gain the kudos, following and acclaim that they seek. They can be more threatening, more intrusive, more anonymous, harder for the police to track and identify - and with the frenzy in which hashtags can suddenly trend and go viral, it is a whole new platform from which they can manage their deadly behaviour. Clarke uses this as the premise for her 'Hashtag Murderer' and "Follow Me" is an unsettling and chilling novel in which a viral threat becomes a very real threat for the protagonist, Freddie.
I really liked the fact that each chapter is given the title in text style abbreviation - with a translation for those of us not completely bilingual in this new language. These headings capture the essence of the book. This is a novel bursting with vitality; a book which rattles along with a protagonist who is reckless and unconventional. The short chapters are fitting for a thriller that bases itself on the brevity of modern communication and ensures that actually it is as impossible to switch off from this story as it is your online timeline.
Clarke also starts each chapter with a break down of how many followers the Hashtag Murderer has and how many people he is following which creates a sense of panic, tension, need for action as well as reflecting just how quickly things can go viral on social media these days. Clarke is also exploring the effect of social media on a police investigation - how people can hide their anonymity, ensure their activity is untraceable, leak police details and generate endless speculation or indeed encourage people to get involved in a potentially dangerous situation. Anyone can get involved in the twitter feed from a murderer, call him names, guess his next move and solve the riddles before the police. Even the detective finds out his young daughter has been following the Hashtag murderer because "everyone else is". Some of these throw away comments that appear to be merely a plot device are actually chilling statements about the potential risk and danger of social media.
Meet Freddie, the main character. Totally unconventional. Flawed. Not always completely likeable. Not always completely reliable. But with enough determination, grit and energy to make the reader want to engage with her and stick with her throughout the story.
"Her brown hair, cut by a mate with kitchen scissors, sprang away from her shoulders like she'd been shocked. Flashes of red hair chalk zigzagged toward her DIY fringe. Her legs, stubbornly plump despite working on her feet and taking more than the recommended 10,000 steps a day, poked our from beneath her nightshirt....She wiggled her black plastic rectangular-framed glasses. Not traditionally beautiful."
Freddie lives and breaths journalism and social media. She is constantly searching for a story and in the way that some people view their live through the next Facebook post, Freddie lives hers through the next headline or potential lead story.
Are Millennials cut out for work?
Seize the story. Push yourself into uncomfortable situations.
Disposable jumpsuits: the ideal Freelance Uniform?
This effectively captures the dead pan humour of Freddie and conveys her frustration and quirkiness. It also helps the reader to develop a closer relationship with her as we learn more about how her mind works even though it's a third person narrative.
Freddie is also honest and acknowledges her shortcomings. I really enjoyed some of her observations and I could almost hear her sighing and rolling her eyes as I read the sentences:
"Fear makes you braver. Despite deriding the inspirational quotes that appear over photos of sunsets and the ocean on Facebook, Freddie was disappointed to discover that when she reached her own life crossroads her brain filled with nothing but cliches."
Nasreen, a childhood friend of Freddie's who has not seen her for years, is one of the police officers working on the murder. There are hints of a secret past between these two and a lot of intrigue surrounding their wariness and estrangement from each other.
"Nasreen never wanted to see Freddie Venton ever again."
This sub plot adds further tension, suspense, mystery and drama to the story and Clarke writes about the dynamics, dilemmas and complexities between these two characters well.
I was shocked to find Freddie accused of murder on page 50 and to be honest I have made very few notes since that page as I obviously became completely engrossed in the story! Although, I think there is one very good piece of advice given by Freddie which we should all remember.......
No matter how internet savvy you think you are, you can still get fooled.
Clarke's research and knowledge about social media sites, twitter handles, identities, abbreviations and everything technical is extensive and absolutely faultless. She uses all sorts of aspects of the internet to enhance her storytelling and make the plot and characters as effective and authentic as possible. I thought the ending offered a particularly pleasing bit of prose about the internet:
"Keys are pressed and code unfurls; filing the screen, multiplying, travelling through wires, air, light; reaching out in invisible waves of orange, blue, yellow from one computer to another. From one phone to another. Spreading the millions of words, the millions of images that fill up the Internet, that fill us all up. An email address is entered. A password. A date of birth. A phone number. A new account is created."
Thankfully there is more to come so from Clarke so don't worry when you reach the final page! Her second novel "Watch Me" will be published in January and I am looking forward to seeing what else she has in store for us and what might be lurking inbetween our tweets, posts and WhatsApp conversations!
If you enjoyed Fiona Neil's "The Good Girl, "Viral" by Helen Fitzgerald and "Cut to the Bone" by Alex Caan then this is the book for you! If you are looking for a thoroughly modern, unconventional story then this is for you. I recommend!
"Follow Me" is available as an ebook or a paperback from Amazon and all good bookshops. "Watch Me" will publish on 12th January 2017 by Avon.
For more reviews, recommendations and book chat you can find me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)