Before we “cut the cord” for TV, we really enjoyed spending a chunk of New Year’s Day watching The Twilight Zone Marathon on the SyFy channel. They show episode after episode. There’s something special about being immersed in Rod Serling’s alternate realities for more than just the usual ½ hour episode. There’s a creepiness, and a paranoia and sense of reflection that ensnarls your brain. You begin to look at the world a little differently.
If you are like me, you almost expect Rod Serling to be standing off to one side, in your living room or kitchen, smoking a cigarette, and intoning some clever little summary that usually ends with the phrase “The Twilight Zone”.
Reading Jason Starr’s thriller, The Next Time I Die, is like spending a few hours in the Twilight Zone. It’s compelling, thought-provoking, more-than-a-little creepy and wickedly delicious.
As this thriller is published by one of my favorite imprints, Hard Case Crime, it’s more mystery/noir than science fiction. And that works fine. Like the best Film Noir thrillers, there is a sense that you, as the reader, are plunged into a nearly out-of-control situation and you’re hurtling along at 100 mph.
There are so many clever twists and turns in this story. I don’t want to give them away. Can we just make a deal that you will call me after you read the book? Here’s the official teaser copy from the back cover:
A paranoid thriller in the mind-bending tradition of Philip K. Dick and The Twilight Zone, THE NEXT TIME I DIE will draw you into its claustrophobic web of suspense and leave you questioning everything you think you know.
DYING WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING.
Steven Blitz didn’t think about his own safety when he saw the man trying to force a woman into his car. He stepped in to defend her, and got a knife to the gut for his troubles.
But when he wakes up in the hospital from what should have been a fatal wound, he finds the whole world changed – a different president in the White House, a loving family when he’d been on the verge of divorce, more money in the bank than he’s ever seen. There’s a dark side, though: in this world, Steven Blitz is not a good man. And now he’s got to get himself out of serious trouble without even knowing what it is he’s done wrong.
Fans of all kinds of nerd culture are very comfortable with the concept of alternate worlds. We know just what we’d do if we found our elves on Earth 2 (I’d go visit the Justice Society) or we found ourselves in the Star Trek Mirror Universe (I’d grow an evil Spock beard). And as more movies and TV shows employ this concept, more folks feel comfortable with the idea too.
This thriller, especially for a middle-aged man, is all about answering big questions like “What have I done with my life?”, “How could things have turned out differently?”, and even “Am I good person?”
One other thing, unlike the Twilight Zone, which exists best (despite the many reboots) in that early 60s era of crisp white shirts and skinny black ties, The Next Time I Die takes place now. Starr cleverly dances around, and into, all kinds of current events. There’s a bit of politics, a bit of the pandemic, a bit of the dominance of tech companies and everything in between. And to his credit, Starr handles it so very well, without a whiff of heavy-handedness.
The cover is by a wonderful artist named Claudia Caranfa. You may remember how much I liked her work on those Ms. Tree books I recently reviewed. She’s a big talent and I’m so impressed with her work.
My only complaint was that it was all over too soon. It’s a quick read, and this novel is compelling enough to make you shove all the other stuff you’re reading aside. Another winner from Hard Case Crime.
The Next Time I Die
Author: Jason Starr
Cover art: Claudia Caranfa
Publisher: June 2022
Preview and Ordering info available here.