Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman

Swipe Right for Murder
By Derek Milman
Little, Brown, 2019

Swipe Right for Murder     By Derek Milman Little, Brown, 2019

There’s a very real sense in which a novel with a title like Swipe Right for Murder really doesn’t need to do much of anything else in order to justify its existence. Who now remembers the specific plot points of I, the Jury or Who Killed Cock Robin or Trouble is My Business? It’s a bit cynical, but nevertheless: sometimes a title gives you pretty much all you need to know. 

To the very limited extent that this isn’t true for Swipe Right for Murder, it’s probably to author Derek Milman’s credit. The book is the latest entry in James Patterson’s YA imprint for Little, Brown, and the Master introduces it himself: “Make no mistake, Swipe Right for Murder is absolutely the high-octane thriller that the title promises.” See? He’s on about the title too. Patterson is in his seventies, so he gets a pass on 50-year-old phrases like “high-octane”; less so Milman, who’s 40 but has his 17-year-old protagonist uncork a “high-octane” in the book’s first five pages, not so much. 

That 17-year-old protagonist is Aidan Jamison, who’s finishing his last year at Witloff Academy when a physical shows some kind of mild cardiac irregularity. His parents bring him to Manhattan for some tests, and while he’s enjoying his solo room at the Mandarin Oriental, he fires up the “DirtyPaws” gay hookup act that’s served him well in the past (Aidan is a bit on the nerdy-looking side, but he’s plenty hot enough to get constant pings). 

He’s surprised to learn that his fellow Witloff student and athletic super-god Darren Cohen is only a few floors above him in the same hotel, but that meeting proves to be intensely awkward, and Aidan is happy to move on immediately on to his next hookup, an older man named Benoit (pronounced, we’re told, “ben-Wah”). Things go much more pleasantly - until Aidan wakes up a bit later and finds Benoit dead in bed next to him. And away we go.

“That’s my big fear, I guess,” Aidan thinks earlier in the same fateful day, “ - that I’m a clone; that I’ll never be different; that my whole future is just mapped out for me and I essentially have no free will at all.” After discovering a dead body and immediately becoming enmeshed in a broiling, violent narrative that had sent Benoit to the Mandarin Oriental in the first place, this isn’t a problem: soon enough, he’s on the run and his face is on CNN. 

Anybody who’s ever read James Patterson will know what to expect from this kind of thriller; Derek Milman serves up the same action and breathless pacing; the difference is mostly the ten or fifteen years shaved off the protagonist (and so-energetic plying of the sunny side of the street, dating-wise), but the dirt-dumb stupidity of that protagonist stands firmly in place:

I think history is pretty cool. All those different time periods, each characterized by a different tone, different values, and different ways of thinking. Maybe the Romantic period could get exhausting with everyone swooning and being emotional, but I bet the Renaissance was a pretty badass time to be on this planet - maybe a little cliquey, though, if you weren’t sculpting enough.

Aidan’s adventures in Milman’s handling are infectiously page-turning, despite being laughably silly (again, the combination will be familiar to Patterson fans). And right from the start, characters are introduced in the stacked cliches of screenplays rather than the texture of prose:

Leo is our other friend. Half Asian. Hipster. Coder. Puppy-ish. Flakes a lot. Goes to Comic-Con. Total stud anyway. Loves Minecraft, Fortnite, and Tarantino (but nothing after Inglourious Basterds). Heading to Brown next year. Full scholarship. Will probably create the next Snapchat or go into finance.

The whole business doesn’t read much like a Young Adult novel, it must be admitted. Aidan is an adorable, bumbly teenager, yes (readers will immediately start casting him from the small stable of Hollywood actors for the type), but virtually none of his quips or actions are in any way believable (minutes after discovering Benoit’s dead body, for instance, he thinks: “I am giving DirtyPaws a one-star rating in the app store”), for 17 or any other age. 

But then, readers - even YA readers - don’t come to books like Swipe Right for Murder for the believability. They come for the killer title, they stay for the killer roller coasters, and with any luck, they leave happy and come back for the next book. 

Steve Donoghue is a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Historical Novel Society, and The American Conservative. He writes regularly for The National, The Washington Post, The Vineyard Gazette, and The Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.