This isn’t a standard book review of “Murdered” by James Schannep because “Murdered” isn’t your standard book. Schannep employs a unique storytelling technique allowing the reader, by providing alternate options at the end of the chapters, to select how the story will unfold. It’s fascinating and intriguing and I went through different scenarios multiple times just to see how they differed based on my alternate selections. How the story begins is the only consistent element of the story as Schannep weaves multiple twist and turns with as many outcomes. This is a story tree gone wild with as many branches as a thousand-year-old oak.
“Murdered” gets high marks for its ingenuity. It’s written in the second person which is unheard of in fiction. The only way for the evolution of the story to work is for the reader to be the main character in the book as the options are based on how you, the reader, choose to go. Options like “[You] pick up the gun” or “[You] Leave it” are how the reader moves the story forward. It’s fun and dynamic and similar to the Rubik’s Cube provides an interesting and fun challenge, that is until you’ve figured it out and are no longer enthralled by the shiny object.
The downside to this technique is a complete lack of emotional involvement with the characters as well as missing any of the classic elements that capture readers’ interest. Outside of the novelty there’s no reason to keep reading. It is an inherent drawback to this form as you’re told what to you and how to feel (“You’re stunned into silence.”) and that may not even have been an objective but as a reader I want to want to know more and not just because it’s a shiny, new toy.
There’s no character development and too many inciting incidents to care what happens. A character is your enemy in one scenario and your ally in another depending on which path you’re on and while the setting is consistent the action and how the characters react is, again, predicated on which path you take. Assuming you only go down one path (as I did on my first read through) it is still difficult to find any connection with the characters or the story because (1) you are a character in the book and because you, the person, aren’t really you, the character, there’s no way to understand how and why things unfold and (2) it’s written (I’m assuming) intentionally this way so each potential scenario unfolds appropriately.
I must give Schannep credit as creating this was no easy task. This would never have been an option pre-ebooks and he must have been thrilled to know he could exploit the capabilities in a new and unique way. There were a couple scenarios that didn’t track like a reference I, as a character in the book, think “leave it to an engineer” when the track I followed didn’t say he was an engineer prior. Again, considering how well he wove the multiple permutations I can let that and the few other inconsistencies slide.
This is a very clean book in that I didn’t find any type-o’s or glaring grammatical issues. There are enough passive verbs and unnecessary use of “that” for me to recommend Schannep be more aware of them in future work but they aren’t rampant like in most modern fiction. It’s technically sound and aside from one paragraph (in 7000+ Kindle pages) with two different people’s dialogue, whomever did the copy editing did a great job.
Overall, if you’re looking for a unique reading experience I would highly recommend “Murdered”. It’s fun and dynamic and peaks a curiosity not normally touched in a standard book. I think of it as Mad Libs for fiction. However, if you like getting emotionally involved with characters and seeing their dynamic change and evolve within a well crafted plot this probably isn’t the book for you.