#BlogTour #BookReview - If I Die Tonight by A.L. Gaylin

There was a time when Jackie Reed knew her sons better than anyone. She used to be able to tell what they were thinking, feeling, if they were lying…

But it's as though every day, every minute even, she knows them a little less. Her boys aren’t boys anymore, they’re becoming men - men she’s not sure she recognises, men she’s not sure she can trust.

So when one of her son’s classmates is killed in suspicious circumstances, people start asking questions.

Was it really a hit and run? A car-jacking gone wrong? Or something much more sinister?

Now Jackie must separate the truth from the lies.

How did that boy end up on the road?

And where was her son that night?

Last year I reviewed - and loved - A.L. Gaylin's previous book, What Remains of Me so I was absolutely delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for her latest book, If I Die Tonight.
What Remains of Me was about crimes committed decades apart, for this new book A.L. Gaylin focuses on just the one crime - a hit and run that results in the death of a teenage boy - but again uses different narratives, this time split between characters rather than years, to tell the story.
The book opens with a prologue in the form of a suicide note written as a Facebook post and is an immediate example of the author's clever use of social media giving the novel a contemporary feel and highlighting how even crime can be viewed as a dark form of entertainment in this internet age. The post is on Jacqueline Reed's page but was written by her 17 year old son, Wade. He reminisces about his past then discloses he's taken pills and is expecting a quick death. Shockingly 1,043 people like the post.
The novel then goes back five days and we are introduced properly to Jackie and her teenage sons, it's immediately obvious that both boys keep secrets from their mum - but that's just normal teenage behaviour...isn't it? A shocking hit and run that results in the death of a local adolescent boy, is the sole witness (a washed up singer with a history of drug issues) reliable or is there more to her story? She claims to be the victim of a car-jacking, the perpetrator purposely driving into the victim after he tried to help her. At first the small town pulls together, united in their grief but there's an inevitability about how the mood changes as facts about that fateful night come to light. The gossip, readiness to point the finger and suspicion of those considered a bit different are all too believable, we've all seen how quickly people become judge and jury in high profile, emotive cases. The social media posts from a number of platforms are sprinkled throughout the book and are a reminder of what a constant factor they have become in our lives; they can end up creating a sort of hysteria as people compete for the most replies and likes and it's only too easy to understand how vulnerable people, particularly teens can be bullied online and moved to take drastic action.
The mystery about what actually happened that night is compelling and is accompanied throughout by superb characterisation  As a mother of teenagers I could obviously relate to Jackie, desperate not to smother her children but terrified about what they are hiding from her, particularly Wade who has become increasingly withdrawn from his mother and younger brother. Connor wants to protect his older sibling but at what cost to his own social standing? His confusion and guilt as he begins to suspect Wade may have darker secrets than just sneaking out for a cigarette is often touching as is Wade's own torment, the knowledge that he doesn't fit in is a familiar story, the lonely teen mocked and ostracised. His actions often left me frustrated but the author has ensured his decisions are entirely believable, he is, after all, a scared young man on the cusp of adulthood but not yet able to always make the right choices at the right time. As the death of Wade's classmate is investigated we also learn more about the life of Pearl, one of the investigating officers. She has her own secrets and can empathise with the feeling of being an outsider in this small town. It's Pearl who is really the moral compass within the story, she has her suspicions about the truth but is prepared to be wrong and has a deep conviction that everybody deserves the chance to prove they are innocent even when all evidence seems to suggest they are guilty. I'd love to see her return in future books by A.L. Gaylin, her messy personal life, particularly her unfortunate past is gradually revealed and I feel there is real scope for more from her.
I loved If I Die Tonight, I was completely immersed in the story, the various twists keeping me guessing throughout. I wasn't just racing through the pages to learn the truth, I genuinely cared about the outcome. This is an intelligent, authentic and very human book, as much a family drama as a mystery thriller, beautifully written and plotted with insightful and compassionate characterisation. I highly recommend it. Many thanks to Jasmine Rowe at Arrow for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. You can follow the other stops here:

If I Die Tonight is published in the UK by Arrow. A.L. Gaylin is on Twitter as @alisongaylin.

About the Author

Alison Gaylin's first job was as a reporter for a celebrity tabloid, which sparked a lifelong interest in writing about people committing despicable acts. More than a decade later, she wrote and published her Edgar-nominated first novel, HIDE YOUR EYES.

She's since published eight more books, including the USA Today and international bestselling Brenna Spector suspense series, which has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Thriller awards and won the Shamus award.

She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, cat and dog.