THE NEXT BEST THING by Wiley Brooks tracks a Malaysian serial killer who targets young American female tourists in 1987. The novel follows the 25-day pursuit of English-speaking native, Joey. Abandoned by the American missionaries who raised him, Joey survives as a petty thief and purse snatcher. But he’s upped his game to murder now that he’s found a fence for stolen credit cards and passports. Unfortunately for Joey, the father of his last victim is Bob Anderson, and Bob has connections. He’s hired Mason Ray, an ex-CIA hitman to track Joey down and bring him to justice. The personal struggles of Mason, who avenged his fiance’s murder and now he helps others in similar situations, bring this narrative to life. But “collateral damage” victims haunt Mason’s nightmares. Revenge is sweet, but the aftermath of violence is always sour, leaving psychological wounds that are slow to heal.
Brooks does a nice job showing the repercussions of loss throughout THE NEXT BEST THING, both with Bob and Mason’s stories, as well as Jessica’s tale. Jess is supposed to be Joey’s final victim, but Joey finds himself falling in love with her. Jessica brings out Joey’s humanity. He’s not a bad guy, he just needs start-up capital to open a groovy bungalow beach resort. But it’s too late for romantic notions when you have to answer for a string of throat-slashing, post-coital murders, and Mason and Bob are closing in fast.
In many ways, THE NEXT BEST THING is a love letter to Malaysia. Detailed descriptions of snorkeling hotspots and lush tea plantations could earn Brooks a job with the tourism board. The Southeastern Asian country sounds like an amazing place to visit, fictional serial killers aside. Brooks’ prose is lean and mean, more akin to Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett’s gut-punch style than the lyrical crime fiction of Jonathan Lethem. The characters in THE NEXT BEST THING aren’t entirely original, but they’re fully realized, with believable backstories and motivations. While the plot may feel familiar, THE NEXT BEST THING carves its own unique groove inside the boundaries of genre crime fiction.
Fans of exotic, tropical thrillers (with a side of R-rated sex), will enjoy THE NEXT BEST THING, a fast paced tale of violence and vengeance with believable characters and an authentic depiction of Malaysian culture.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader