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On The Shelf: ‘Follow Me Down’ by Sherri Smith

Credit: Macmillan/Forge Books

‘Sup readers? Welcome back to On The Shelf,  FanFest’s book review/book opinion  column, the point of which is to examine the merits of newly-released literature and decide whether or not it has a coveted spot on the shelf. This week’s read was Follow Me Down, the first thriller written by Sherri Smith (she has previously dabbled in historical fiction, with The Virgin’s Tale and The Children Of Witches). I honestly thought I was going to devour it, be consumed and shocked and giddily terrified by the content in this standalone novel.

But let’s just start with the summary. Follow Me Down focuses on Mia Haas, born and raised in a fictional North Dakota town, grown up and off like a shot to Chicago. She’s settled into a career as a pharmacist, far away from her toxic, alcoholic mother and her twin brother Lucas— the only person Mia actually has a meaningful relationship with. Lucas, the town’s golden boy/high school hockey coach/English teacher, is accused of murdering Joanna Wilkes, a student he (supposedly) had a sexual flirtationship with. He’s also, conveniently, gone missing, leaving police sure that he’s some kind of creepy, perverted ephebophile who skipped town after the murder. Mia is drawn back to her claustrophobic birthplace and forced to play detective to clear her brother’s name, and find out what really happened to Joanna.

That’s the bare-bones summary, but this review will be crossing into spoiler territory, so if you want to purchase the book, scroll down to the end of the post and click on the accompanying link. Ready? Spoilers, ahoy!:

Like so many contemporary thriller protagonists these days, Mia is an unreliable narrator. She’s not only biased against and suspicious of everything about her old life (with the obvious exception of Lucas), she’s also an addict. Any pill she can pop will be swallowed before she even thinks twice— the perks of being a pharmacist. She also (like so many of the fictional women who find themselves entangled in murderous drama) has a horrible secret of her own, in addition to her fractured family. In a way, this book is like a stacked cheeseburger: there are multiple layers, multiple secrets, multiple stories that spin out from the main plot point— which all sounds very juicy, and in truth, makes for a delightfully fast read. But here’s where things start to go south: not every character you read about is going to be relatable, or even likeable, but it takes a special kind of deftness for an author to work with both, to turn their trainwreck of a character into an unreliable narrator that somehow— somehow— maintains a shred of credibility with readers.

Mia is so convinced the cops have botched her brother’s case (the chief of police, she scornfully remembers, used to let her drunk mother’s dangerous behaviour slide, in exchange for sexual favours). She shakes down every single tree, pokes every metaphorical bear, to prove Lucas’s innocence. And even though she is supposed to be some hard-scrabble kid who raised herself, and she makes frequent references to her time in university— it takes serious intellectual chops to be a pharmacist— she is dumb as a box of rocks, neither streetwise nor book-smart.

She’s so desperate to find and exonerate Lucas, that her pill-addled, booze-soaked mind frequently ties itself in knots, jumping to every conclusion possible. At first, this is exciting, leaping with Mia from theory to theory about who killed Joanna— was it Lucas’s friend? Was it Joanna’s boyfriend? Was it another teacher? Was it Lucas himself?— but after awhile, it gets boring. It’s like a drawn-out evening of throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks, even if it doesn’t make any sense, and Mia is grasping at straws. Every subsequent theory she pushes together is more convoluted, even by fictional standards, and after awhile, the more gripping question is not “Did Lucas kill Joanna?” It’s “Is Mia going to overdose and die so this book can be over now?”

To be honest with you, if Follow Me Down really had involved me throwing pasta at the wall, I would’ve just ordered a pizza.

Not to mention, Mia is constantly putting herself in dangerous, life-threatening situations, carelessly giving up valuable information to bad people, and in general, making horrible decisions. She is so painfully amateurish that when her wad of pasta finally stuck, it made the police force look like they couldn’t solve their way out of a paper bag, and should all promptly be fired. There was no sharpness or clarity in Mia’s investigation at all— she stumbles across lies and half-truths in an intoxicated blur. When she finally does figure out the truth, it’s an accident.

So, what is the truth? Well—

Did you really think I was just going to spoil the ending? Dude, this isn’t that type of review.

But in all honesty, after being dragged around through the town, seeing things through Mia’s  (exceptionally dumb) eyes, the truth, when finally laid out, is outlandish. Not in that spine-tingling way that thrillers are supposed to engender, but in a way that makes you go “Umm…”

It was silly, not shocking. Gross, but in a way that made me feel like cheated, like Smith was trying to yank a reaction out of me by introducing the scenario, rather than letting it happen naturally (I would also like to point out that, when Mia is fighting for her life, I snorted and was like, “Dude, come on. You should definitely be dead already.”)

I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but Follow Me Down spent every drop of that and tried to squeeze out more. I’m sure you can already tell, but Follow Me Down won’t be going on the shelf. That said, the novel is incredibly fast-paced (I finished it in less than 24 hours) so if you’re looking for something to read during a flight, and thrillers are your thing, you should totally check it out here.

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