First To Die – Alex Caan (Riley and Harris 2)


First To Die is published by Zaffre on 14 June 2018 and is available to buy here



Bonfire Night and St James’s Park is filled with thousands of Anonymous protesters in a stand-off with the police. When a cloaked, Guido Fawkes mask-wearing body is discovered the following morning, Kate Riley and Zain Harris from the Police Crime Commissioner’s office are called in.

The corpse has been eaten away by a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus. The autopsy reveals the victim was a senior civil servant, whose work in international development involved saving lives. Why would anyone want him dead?


As the research team looking into the origins of the deadly virus scramble to discover an antidote, first one, then another pharmacist goes missing. Meanwhile, a dark truth starts to emerge about the murder victim: he was an aggressive man, whose bullying behaviour resulted in the suicide attempt of one of his former staff members.


With thirty lives potentially at stake, Kate and Zain have their work cut out for them. Can they find the two missing pharmacists in time, or will they too end up dead?

By the same author

Cut to the Bone – Alex Caan

My thoughts

Last year one of the unexpected highlights was a book entitled Cut to the Bone. It was the debut crime novel by Alex Caan, cutting edge with its perceptive eye on social media. I was keen to read the follow up First to Die.

I read First to Die twice. This was because I found myself very confused. This is so unusual for me. Authors are normally much clearer in the way they write. There are massive faults with the story. It starts off as a fabulous read, as we return to the lives of Detective Sargeant Zain Harris and Detective Inspector Kate Riley. We get an unusual death. A man is found in the park, with bizarre injuries. It appears that a high profile individual has died in suspicious circumstances, with blisters and pustules all over his body. It soon becomes clearer that this could be some kind of rare infectious disease or airborne virus. We are soon in the realms of science fiction. It has a definite air of the X-Files about it, as Riley and Harris are trying to get answers. Great stuff.

The first part of the book handles this all very well and builds slow tension. However the second part of the book is incredibly weak and overly rushed. It will leave most readers puzzling or pulling their hair out. We get multiple other deaths, in the last third of the book. They are connected to the first person who died. The killer is escalating and has a specific reason for targeting individuals. It all gets very complicated. Who is who? How are they related? The author struggles to make this all clear. I had to make a chart in order to make any sense of it all. If you do read this, I recommend this approach. It all felt very rushed and under-developed. Some great ideas, not very well delivered. It is a great pity because the first half of the book was so well done. The resolution too felt like the ticking of a politically correct box. Such a shame. Tokenism just doesn’t work.

My other problem is the portion of the book relating to Kate Riley. We hear constantly about how she is being watched by someone sinister from her past. Someone wants revenge. The revenge is a few text messages to her Mother. Yes terrifying indeed, she says in a sarcastic voice. Apologies for the spoiler. This just illustrates how the second half of the book lost any impact.

Overall I feel that First to Die was a massive disappointment. It does not match the cleverness of Cut to the Bone. It is a pale imitation, with the power to confuse. It is weak and not very well delivered. It had so much potential: Two rather interesting leads, a strange death and a mystery figure waiting to target Kate and her mother. The author needs to up his game.

About Northern Crime

Reviewer with a mind of her own. This is a collection of book reviews, which started in 2014. Mostly crime and odd other genres thrown in. Some I loved. Some I loathed. You get the picture.
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1 Response to First To Die – Alex Caan (Riley and Harris 2)

  1. brmaycock says:

    That’s a pity!

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