Comparisons between Dana King's new crime novel, Worst Enemies, and the classic Highsmith work, Strangers on a Train, are more than apt. Both begin with two men plotting to kill the other's wife. Perhaps out of concern for wary readers' suspicions, author King acknowledges the similarity in several references, although he places his jaded husbands in a strip club.
At first, it seems King is making a literal update of the classic story. The first man, Tom, breaks into the other man's house and kills the wife as promised. King gets the reader geared up for the next murder, then throws in a huge twist.
No, it's not the same deus ex machina that Strangers on a Train uses. But it's so arresting, I was hooked deep. Worst Enemies opens wide from a pedestrian quasi-homage into a rabbit hole of crime. The more you find out, the less you know. Not in a "where the heck is the story going?" sort of way. More of an "I have to keep reading to find out what happens" way.
That King can put the many pieces together in a such a compelling way speaks to the character management he displayed in his debut, Wild Bill (read my review here). The cast is large, but it never feels that way. King keeps the story grounded in police detective Ben Dougherty, a military veteran trying to shed his hard bark.
By the end, Worst Enemies was miles from Strangers on a Train. A careful reader might notice similarities between certain characters and the real-life author Highsmith, but they don't distract from the experience. When a crime novel goes above and beyond a mere interpretation of a classic, the reader is left as satisfied as the author.