How Do You Solve Your Own Murder? Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen. But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger. As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.
If I Die Before I Wake is a captivating debut and ultimately an extremely compelling read although, for me, was a book of (almost) two halves.
The first part of the book is much more steady and lays the groundwork, letting you get to know Alex, his background and his unique situation, while dropping hints of the puzzles to come. The second part felt much faster paced and has more of a ‘traditional’ mystery feel, with plenty of clues and revelations and twists and turns.
“Looking back, I can see that this was the point when things changed. From then on, it wasn’t just me who was in trouble”
Alex’s descriptions of his day-to-day existence and his condition, feelings and frustrations are all very evocative and I regularly found myself shifting in my seat, flexing my fingers and scratching imaginary itches in sympathy for his plight. Variously, poor Alex made me want to jump in a refreshing shower, down a pint of water and throw open a window for some fresh air!
Despite not being able to move or to see, Emily Koch makes Alex uses his other senses to paint extremely vivid pictures of the sights, smells and sounds in his hospital room and beyond. His visitors and his doctors and nurses are brought clearly to life and I could totally picture his room, as well as him in his life before his accident.
“I listened as she went on, letting her words take me away from my discomfort as I lay on the unforgiving bed frame. Her descriptions made me feel hungry and brought my grey world to life. I loved it when she did this – talked about what she saw…She somehow knew what I needed. I clung to her descriptions and fleshed them out”
Listening to Alex’s memories and regrets is in turn both heart-breaking and amusing – I loved the section about him recording his own radio show, as I did the very same thing as a child. His descriptions of his successful climbing experiences, his memories of his mum and his trip to Canada, his recollections of time spent with Bea are all very moving. Despite his awful situation, his narration is also often wry and deadpan.
“A huge storm raged outside my window, dulling the sound of ambulances coming and going. Rain drove in at the glass –waves of pitter-patters blown in by the wind, as if someone was turning the volume dial up and down every few seconds. it was only interrupted by several minutes’ worth of hail so noisy that i entertained the possibility that we were, in fact, under machine gun fire”
Throughout the book, Alex’s relationship with his friends, family and acquaintances are all examined through the prism of his newly incapacitated situation and his fractured memories force him to consider who he can really trust or rely on.
The final 25% of the book really ramps up the pace and the conclusion is surprising and satisfying. I could barely keep up with the last few pages as it was so emotional and I feel a bit bereft now it’s finished.
This unique and original story really makes you appreciate that life is for living and it will stay with me for a long time to come. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing Harvill Secker for the ARC of If I Die Before I Wake.