Publisher: Hachette Australia (Trade Paperback – 30 June 2021)
Length: 322 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
From the unique mind of leading Australian science fiction author Max Barry comes the fantastic and very clever alternate universe thriller, The 22 Murders of Madison May.
Madison May has been murdered and she has no idea why!
Madison, a young real-estate agent suddenly finds herself on the wrong side of a knife wielding client with zero regard for keeping his identity hidden from the police. His final act before killing her is to profess his undying love to her. However, Madison has never seen her murderer before in her life, at least, not in this life.
When word of Madison’s death reaches the desk of the Daily News, it falls to rising reporter Felicity Staples to follow up. Despite a dislike for murder cases, Felicity soon finds herself wrapped up in investigating the brutal killing of the beautiful Madison May, especially as some unusual designs have been carved into the walls. However, things take a turn for the strange when Felicity sees the suspected murderer at the subway in a dangerous confrontation with another fugitive from justice. Moments after seeing them, Felicity can only watch in surprise as they vanish before her eyes and her universe is turned upside down.
Returning to her apartment, Felicity notices several minor changes to her life. Her boyfriend suddenly knows how to cook, one of her cats is missing, and no-one at work remembers anything about her story or Madison May. As strange events keep occurring, Felicity is soon forced to face the fact that she has been transported to an alternate dimension. Reeling from the revelation, Felicity is even more stunned when a slightly different Madison May turns up murdered, the victim of the same killer. Chasing after the mysterious people hovering around the case, Felicity discovers that a dangerous stalker is moving from dimension to dimension, determined to find the perfect Madison May to fall in love with, and killing any version he doesn’t like. Can Felicity stop the killer before he takes out another version of Madison May, or will her forays into interdimensional travel have consequences she could never imagine?
Wow, this was a very fun and captivating read that I really enjoyed. The 22 Murders of Madison May is the latest novel from Australian Max Barry, an author of several intriguing science fiction novels, including Providence, Jennifer Government, and Machine Man. This was the first novel of Barry’s that I have had the opportunity to read, and I am very glad that I did, as Barry has created an outstanding and fun science fiction thriller that makes great use of some cool alternate dimension travel to produce an exquisite and awesome story.
Barry has come up with an extremely exciting and compelling narrative for this fantastic novel, which makes excellent use of its unique science fiction hook. The novel starts off with the brutal murder of the first Madison May, which leads to the involvement of protagonist Felicity. It does not take long for Felicity to get dragged into an alternate universe after encountering the killer and a fugitive engaged in a fight. Forced to deal with the unusual differences in her life and the revelations of what has happened to her, Felicity attempts to save the lives of several different Madison Mays, while also avoiding the attentions of a group of interdimensional travellers who jealously guard their secrets. What follows is a series of thrilling scenes where Felicity and her ally, Hugo, jump from alternate universe to alternate universe trying to stop the killer, with varying degrees of success. This all eventually leads up to a fantastic and impressive conclusion where Felicity is forced to make some major, life-altering decisions, while also facing off against the monster she’s been chasing. This proved to be an extremely captivating and fascinating novel, which honestly takes no time at all to get hooked on. I loved the brilliant blend of psychological thriller and compelling science fiction elements, which seamlessly work together to produce an outstanding and memorable standalone story. I powered through this book in a couple of days, and I deeply enjoyed every second I spent reading this intense and cleverly written story.
I have to say that I deeply appreciated the fascinating concept of alternate dimensions and interdimensional travel that Barry features. Not only does the author do a good job explaining the science and philosophy behind this science fiction feature, but he also ensures that it works to full effect within the narrative. In this book, dimensional travellers move from one reality to the next, taking over the lives of the version of themselves living in that dimension. This results in the travelling characters awakening in a world with slight deviations from the last one they visited. Barry features several separate dimensions within The 22 Murders of Madison May, and it was always quite fascinating to see the slight differences that occur, good and bad. This is most prominently shown through the eyes of protagonist Felicity, who ends up visiting several alternate realities, some of which severely shake her. However, you likewise get to see several different versions of the titular murder victim, Madison May, which results in a fascinating examination of how decisions and missed opportunities can impact your life. It was also cool to see the various ways in which the alternate dimension travel could be manipulated, most noticeably by the book’s antagonist. This vicious killer was constantly manipulating events to find a version of Madison May that would love him the same way that he loved her, and it was both creepy and intriguing the way in which Barry combined an alternate reality story with a tale of a fanatic serial killer. It was very interesting to see the way the villain was able to change the course of his dimensional travels to suit his needs, such as by framing one of his pursuers for murder, and then ensuring that they only travelled to dimensions where they were locked up in prison. I felt that Barry did a great job introducing and utilising this cool concept, and it really worked to create an epic and powerful narrative.
The author has also come up with some fun and complex characters in The 22 Murders of Madison May, who are enhanced by the fact that you get a very detailed and compelling snapshot into various versions of their lives. The main character is Felicity Staples, a bold and clever reporter who finds her entire life upside down. Felicity initially lives an ordinary life, with a boyfriend and two cats, while hunting for political corruption. However, the events of this story really mess her around, as she is bounced around slightly different versions of her life. These various involuntary jumps really have an impact on her, especially as she experiences both positive and negative changes which make her question her choices and relationships. At the same time, she becomes obsessed with saving Madison May and stopping the killer, so much so that she constantly throws her life in danger. The combination of these choices and the changing realities proves to be quite wearing on her, especially as she is forced to make some major sacrifices in her own life to try and save Madison’s. This makes for quite a strong and likeable protagonist, and I deeply enjoyed seeing her intense and tragic narrative unfold completely.
I also really enjoyed supporting character Madison May. The Madison Mays are essentially nobodies who have the very classic backstory of being a struggling actress who moved the big city and is dealing with a terrible boyfriend. However, in one reality she was given her big break and appeared in a film in a small role. However, this big break was a double-edged sword, as it gained the attention of a stalker, who, upon failing to meet her in his world, travelled between dimensions and started hunting her down. Throughout the course of the book, you see multiple versions of Madison May, each of whom has a slightly different life, whether she is still struggling as an actress, on the cusp of a big break, or has given up acting altogether. The author does a really good job of quickly and concisely setting up each of these new versions of Madison May, and you quickly get a feel for who the character is and the choices that change her. Because she is not travelling through alternate dimensions, it is always fascinating to see the different interactions she has with her killer, as well as the reactions to the strange events occurring around her. As a result, you get a fairly detailed examination of this character’s life, and it proves very hard not to like her and hope that she is able to overcome the latest attempts on her life.
The final character I want to focus on is the novel’s main antagonist and the killer of Madison May, Clayton Hors. Clayton is a compelling and intense villain who starts his journey as an obsessed fan who falls in love with Madison May after seeing her in a movie in his reality and starts stalking her, eventually getting caught. While this would usually be the end of the story, Clayton was able to obtain an item that allowed him to travel through dimensions, so he started stalking Madison in every reality he can find, assessing each version to find the perfect match to the one he fell in love with, and then attempting to make them love him in return. This is some deeply disturbing antagonist creation here, and I really appreciate the way in which Barry amps up a dangerous and obsessed sociopath by giving them the ability to stalk their victims across the dimensions. There are so many elements to this character which turn them into quite a memorable villain, from his unwavering determination to get what he wants, his short and violent temper, an inability to be satisfied with the girls he finds, and an obsession that can withstand constant dimensional travel. I particularly found the descriptions of his arms, which are scarred and cracked by the various bite marks of Madison May from across the dimensions, to be a horrific masterstroke from Barry, and it was very disturbing to see versions of Madison May who attempt to bite down on his arm in self-defence to find that their teeth already match the indentations there. Clayton was an outstanding and disturbing villain, and he really helped turn this excellent science fiction thriller into something very special and dark.
The 22 Murders of Madison May is a brilliant and distinctive science fiction thriller that I had an amazing time reading. Australian author Max Barry has written an exceptionally clever story that perfectly combines a disturbing tale of murder and obsession, with an adventure in interdimensional travel. I loved this awesome story, and I will have to make sure I check out some more of Max Barry’s novels in the future because I had a fantastic time getting through The 22 Murders of Madison May. A highly recommended read.