I received a free ecopy of this novel from NetGalley.
Follow Me by Angela Clarke is a true 21st century thriller with a plot that hinges on the ability to “catfish” (misrepresent yourself on the Internet), and be protected by social media policies. Freddie is a would-be journalist who is barely making ends meet by sharing a flat with roommates who change so often it’s like she has a revolving door. She works part-time at a tube stop coffee shop where we see a caring side of Freddie as she feeds homeless people out the back door with expired food instead of putting it in the dumpster. She’s a rebel with a hair-trigger temper, a casual-sex lifestyle, and a rather crude mouth on her. She’s been published in a popular online paper called The Family Paper, writing about the life of a typical university student for the past three years without remuneration. It’s the same old story; she’s been told it’s all good experience.
Experience. Everything was good experience: writing articles for free for a national newspaper, landing a job in Espress-oh’s coffee chain to pay her bills, pitching, publishing, pumping out all her words for no reward. When was this experience supposed to pay off? When would she have enough experience?
When she spies her childhood friend, Nasreen, now a police sergeant, in St. Pancras station, she spontaneously decides to fast-talk her way into exchanging phones to type in their emails but at the same time, unknown to Nas, puts herself into Nas’ contacts and presses “call”, which gives Freddie her phone number and the ability to track her. This will be her break; she’ll track Nas to her investigation, get the scoop on it, and get into print and a paycheque!
Arriving at the scene, Freddie snitches a boiler suit from the Forensics van, pushes into the house where the whole street is “ablaze with [police] activity”, and finds herself looking at her first corpse — a more than bizarre, gruesome murder with blood dripping from a gash across the throat of one, Alun Mardling, slumped over his computer. She ends up getting a major story printed front page in The Post, lets off steam in a pub, and finds she’s under arrest in the morning! For murder!
Suddenly, Freddie finds herself working with a murder investigation team as Social Media Advisor, a team that isn’t keen to have her onboard but which slowly comes to realize her input is quite valuable as the murderer, quickly becoming known as #murderer, has posted a picture of his murder victim on Twitter and it goes viral. What they soon learn, is that they have a serial killer on their hands who’s tweeting them clues in a manner based on an Agatha Christie story. Before long, there are copycats online, Freddie is crushed by the knowledge that her relationship with Nas seems beyond redemption, and Freddie is being tracked by the murderer — @Apollyon.
I love the way Freddie thinks in terms of headlines constantly, is usually at least one step ahead of most of the members of her team, and how she gradually, grudgingly, develops respect for police procedure and for the team’s determination to find the murderer before he strikes again. I also liked the way Freddie seems caught in a quandry between wanting to help catch the murderer and wanting to walk, no, run away from the whole investigation and never look back. Clarke has extensive knowledge of the fashion industry and creates vivid scenes around one of the suspects which, hopefully, are not typical. The technical computerese is not beyond the average person’s understanding as many members of the team are not aware of it and so it is explained to them, bringing the uninformed reader into the loop.
The only really disappointing thing about the story is the foul language which, although certainly used in many social venues on the Internet, is none-the-less offensive to many and does not need to be rammed down our throats. Use of that old English legal term, Found Under Carnal Knowledge, to the extent of having it in chapter titles is, for me, rather over the top. It may be all over the Internet but that doesn’t make it acceptable and I’m beginning to think books should include warnings such as we have at movies: coarse language. Other than that, it was an enjoyable read, one that I had trouble putting down. * * * 1/2