At the end of the first chapter of Jason Starr’s The Next Time I Die, Steven Blitz, the story’s protagonist, dies. That’s the starting point for the newest endeavor under the Hard Case Crime banner, not the conclusion, and it reads like a bullet shot from a gun.
This book follows the death and life of Steven Blitz, a lawyer who wakes up in a hospital after being murdered. What follows is a bizarre turn of events as Blitz finds his life drastically different, in both ways rewarding and deadly, as the secrets he unearths put him and his new life in profound jeopardy.
In 256 pages, Starr has trimmed every ounce of fat, resulting in a streamlined, tense thriller. The atmosphere of The Next Time I Die is reminiscent of a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, though through a modern lens. Starr balances intrigue and suspense by allowing the reader to question the reality and surreality without overstaying his welcome. You never feel bored or frustrated by these questions that inevitably hit because Starr wields this suspense with precise ability.
In order to allow the story to start off so quickly and maintain its pace, Starr has to sprinkle in exposition throughout the novel. It’s a refreshing way not to front load the novel with world building, but it does feel repetitive when he constantly name drops pop cultural touchstones as a way to establish the main character’s life post-murder is different than the “real world.” The means justify the ends, ultimately, so that the engine can keep roaring.
One reason this book reads at such a breakneck pace is for the amount of dialogue-heavy scenes. Dialogue can make or break a story but when the characters spoke to one another, it felt natural. This is especially true for the scenes involving conversations with Blitz’s six-year old daughter. I have a six-year old, and the dialogue and subtitles that underlined this character felt honest and real.
Jason Starr deserves credit for this work. Within it, Starr makes a bold choice by rationalizing the surreal aspects Steven Blitz finds himself in. Under a lesser work these circumstances would be just simply unexplainable, but under Starr’s craftsmanship they are creative and ultimately make the story rich and more than just an exciting adventure. By putting that extra bit of effort in, Starr elevated The Next Time I Die into something thought provoking and original.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this book is the fact that I didn’t want to put it down. Starr’s story made me want to keep reading. When previously I may have been on my phone or wasting time, I snuck in five or ten pages when I wasn’t able to sit down for lengthier blocks of reading. It was, to put it simply, fun.
And “fun” is a description that’s gotten a bad wrap. Some say “fun” is a nice way to say the book lacked substance. I don’t think we should overthink it. As an author, especially one writing modern genre fiction, the goal is to entertain. The Next Time I Die accomplishes that in droves. It’s fun. And fun is good.
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