The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho ­attracted a great deal of attention when it was released – not the least of which was due to its main protagonist, played by Janet Leigh, being murdered within the first half-hour.  It was almost unheard of for the main character to disappear from the screen so quickly.

The 22 Murders of Madison May is not too dissimilar.  As the story opens, Madison arrives at a house which she is to sell – she is a real estate agent.  Within minutes, a buyer ‘about her age, early twenties, dimples, thin, but somewhat cute’ comes to the house [2].  Half an hour later, he is saying to Madison, ‘I hate that you make me do this’ [15].

Across town, Felicity Staples – newspaper journalist with the Daily News – accepts a message from an intern referring to the murder of Madison May.  The Crime Scene Unit of the local police has contacted the newspaper about the murder.

Thus, within the first couple of dozen pages, the paths of the two protagonists intersect – one alive and one dead.   However, days later, Felicity scrolls through her phone to the News Update and reads ‘Police are seeking a man in connection with the stabbing death of Madison May’ [79] but this murder occurred outside Madison’s own apartment.  How could this be?

The premise of this intriguing and sometimes confusing story is that, according to quantum mechanics, this universe is just one of many; and sometimes multiple universes press up against each other and then transfer of ‘information’ occurs.  [Sigmund Freud may be interested in this process].  This phenomenon is called a ‘bubble collision’ and when it occurs, a person can move from one universe to another and replace him/herself in the new universe.  In the universe that he/she has left, there is now a hole as if that person never existed there.  The premise rests on the reader’s suspension of disbelief to the extent that he/she can accept that there are multiple selves across multiple universes – all of whom are essentially living the same lives but with some minor differences here and there.  There may be two pet cats rather than one; the furniture may be arranged differently; the live-in boyfriend may have a beard; and so on.

Being an intrepid reporter, Felicity discovers how all this works and also discovers that Madison has been murdered before [twenty-one times in fact – hence the book’s title] and will continue to be murdered unless her murderer [the ‘somewhat cute’ man from the house for sale] is stopped.  Felicity learns how to move from one universe to another and how to ensure – by using a ‘mooring’ – that she can return to the correct universe in time.

The story is essentially a chase across time and universes to track down and ‘stop’ the murderer and allow Madison to live her life to its natural end.

Along the way, as in all good thrillers, there is some doubt as to who can be trusted.  Whose side is Hugo on?  Who or what is the Soft Horizon Juice Company – a company that has nothing to do with juice?  And there are quite a few collateral deaths – or are these confined to just one universe and not the one which is the ‘real’ universe?  Who knows – and who can tell?

Because the story moves from Madison in her various universes to Felicity in pursuit and back again, it can be a little challenging to follow the story accurately.  But in the end, I don’t think it matters.  It is best to allow yourself to get caught up in the thrill of the chase and the complexity of the basic premise and enjoy the ride.  It is after all a thriller and on that basis it delivers.

Max Barry is the author of numerous novels including Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man and Lexicon.  Prior to his writing career, he worked at a tech giant HP.

The 22 Murders of Madison May

[2021]

by Max Barry

Hachette

ISBN 978 0 7336 4580 8

$32.99; 322pp

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