The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

July 12, 2021

I love you. In every world.

Young real estate agent Madison May is shocked when a client at an open house says these words to her. The man, a stranger, seems to know far too much about her, and professes his love–shortly before he murders her.

Felicity Staples hates reporting on murders. As a journalist for a midsize New York City paper, she knows she must take on the assignment to research Madison May’s shocking murder, but the crime seems random and the suspect is in the wind. That is, until Felicity spots the killer on the subway, right before he vanishes.

Soon, Felicity senses her entire universe has shifted. No one remembers Madison May, or Felicity’s encounter with the mysterious man. And her cat is missing. Felicity realizes that in her pursuit of Madison’s killer, she followed him into a different dimension–one where everything about her existence is slightly altered. At first, she is determined to return to the reality she knows, but when Madison May–in this world, a struggling actress–is murdered again, Felicity decides she must find the killer–and learns that she is not the only one hunting him.

Travelling through different realities, Felicity uncovers the opportunity–and danger–of living more than one life.

Let’s imagine for a moment there are parallel multiple universes*. They exist just beside one another but we are all blissfully unaware. Every decision we make creates a new branch of reality, spinning off into infinity. Now imagine a stalker discovers it is possible to travel between these universes. He has killed the object of his desire in our world so what to do? Easy, move on to the next universe. From his perspective, it’s the ideal solution, an almost identical version of his infatuation is alive and well. He can begin his obsessive relationship once more. If he fails to be with her, he kills, and the cycle begins again. The 22 Deaths of Madison May by Max Barry follows this delightfully twisted premise.

The good news is there are some who have become aware of the killer’s existence and are determined to stop him. The protagonist, a reporter called Felicity, stumbles into this cosmic game of cat and mouse accidentally. She quickly realises she is one of the few who can stop this crime from happening again and again. I loved that moment. The sense of resignation that if Felicity doesn’t do anything, then it is likely no one else will. She has uncovered something inherently wrong and sets out to do something about it. The further she travels from her own universe the more committed she has to become. Those around her become less and less familiar. She has no choice, she can’t go back, she can only travel forward.

If I had any criticism of the novel, it would be that I wanted more. It would have been interesting to have that same depth to our villain. It feels like we barely scratched the surface. We get flashes of just how driven he is by Madison, he is consumed by his idea of her. He has gone through this almost ritualistic process of locating Madison May many times. Each time, the meeting has left its mark. This is the creation of a psychopath in small increments. I would be keen to gain further insight. By the time Felicity is involved in events, the killer has already tried and failed to be with Madison over and over. There is a history there ripe for exploration.

Overall, I enjoyed the 22 Murders of Madison May. I just think with a bit more detail I would have enjoyed it more. It is certainly worth seeking it out and seeing what you think. After all, what do I know? As far as the multiverse is concerned, I reckon every iteration of me is likely just a cranky old curmudgeon.

The 22 Murders of Madison May is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to Gone Girl by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The weird ambient, haunting electronica seems to capture the slightly off-kilter tone of the novel perfectly.

*I kinda hope there are.


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