"Deadly Kiss" by Bob Bickford is up for an award this year at ThrillerFest. He's been nominated for the Best First Novel category. I wish him the best of luck. Bob is from the same publishing house as I am, and I know we're all cheering him on for success.
“Deadly Kiss” grabbed me right from the synopsis. Decades of deaths can all be blamed on a stolen kiss that happened out back of a country store in Georgia in 1946. Mike has to follow the trail of secrets if he’s ever going to solve the mystery of what was silently haunting his father ever since he was a young boy.
We meet Mike on his island in a Canadian lake. He’s divorced, but in a complicated relationship with one of his neighbors—Molly. She is also divorced, but her ex-husband comes by every now and then to haunt her and stop Mike and Molly from being exclusive. Speaking of haunting…both of them can see ghosts. It’s not something that they talk about a lot, but it certainly helps them in their journey of discovery.
Angela—Mike’s ex-wife—calls and tells Mike that his father, Sam, is coming up to visit. They’ve been mostly estranged since the death of Mike and Angela’s daughter, though Sam has remained close to Angela. Mike’s not exactly anxious to reconcile with his father, who has always been distant, but Angela isn’t letting him get out of this. She says Sam is terrified, meek, and refuses to ever return home to Georgia.
Sam comes to stay on Mike’s island and struggles to explain exactly what it is that’s eating him up inside. He rambles a bit, straying from the point and often telling things out of order, as a scared old man is prone to do. Mike grows impatient and just wants to know the end of the story. Unfortunately, his father never gets to the point. He asks to be left alone for a moment to gather his thoughts, and he passes away on the spot.
Mike travels back to Georgia to settle his father’s affairs—empty the house, sell it, find out where his mother is buried, bury his father—but things can’t ever be as simple as they seem. He finds a dozen creepy messages on his father’s answering machine. Each one says, “I know what you did.” Actually, I can imagine that this could have been the title of the book. It gets said a lot, by many different characters, directed at several different people. But I really like the title of “Deadly Kiss.” It suits the book better than this frequent uttering.
Mike spends much of the book trying to uncover his father’s history and his part in the story of the deadly kiss that happened out back of Wanda Sutton’s father’s store. As the reader, we spend much of the book bouncing through time. Much like in “You Are One of Them” by Elliott Holt, the time jumps are not in linear order, but they are all clearly labeled. While this can make it hard to keep track of the order of past events, each flashback reveals only what it must. We hear the jumbled past in the same order that Mike does, which makes it all the more thrilling.
I blew through this book in less than a week because I just couldn’t put it down. Each twist and turn kept me on the edge of my seat. About halfway through, I was so into it that when a bombshell of a revelation dropped, I actually yelled, “Boom!” and scared the crap out of the cats who had been sleeping beside me on the couch.
I loved so much about this book. The character development is fantastic. Everyone’s motivations are there—by the end, there is no wondering of why did so-and-so do this? History and backgrounds are there, along with the complicated and genuine-feeling relationships between the various characters. There’s even a PI that I just love. She comments at one point about how her nicotine consumption doubled once she started trying to quit and I laughed out loud.
I would definitely recommend this book. Perhaps I’m biased since this is the only best debut novel nominee that I read this year, but “Deadly Kiss” totally deserves to win the Thriller Award.