Follow Me | Angela Clarke | 2015 | Avon | 352p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
Freddie Venton is struggling to make ends meet. Working as a waitress by night and sleeping on a sofa by day, as well as writing articles for free, Freddie’s ambition is to become a paid investigative journalist. When she bumps into Nas, her old best friend from school whom she hasn’t seen for years, Fredddie senses that her luck might be about to change. Nasreen is a detective sergeant and she’s on her way to a new case. Freddie follows her to the crime scene, allowing herself to be mistaken for a forensic officer. Suited up, going into the house, Freddie is confronted by the shocking, bloody scene of a brutal murder. She can barely get out of there fast enough. But when she sees a photo of the crime scene on Twitter, something only the killer could have seen, Freddie realises that this is no ordinary murderer. This is to be played out on Twitter – as the number of followers rise, more and more clues to future victims are tweeted. One thing is clear, the last thing you want to happen is to be followed back by the ‘Hashtag Murderer’.
The police hire Freddie as their social media consultant – it seemed more productive than charging her for gatecrashing the murder scene – and from then on it’s Freddie’s job to monitor the murderer, to untangle the tweets, working with Nas and the police team to try and stay one step ahead of the killer. It’s a race against time. This is a killer who clearly feeds on attention.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Follow Me – its creation of a Twitter killer could have gone one of two ways, one of which might have disappointed with trendy speak and simplistic plot and motives. But, instead, I found myself thoroughly hooked on a fascinating, clever and utterly gripping thriller that I did not want to put down for a minute. It is also a huge amount of fun. And then there’s the magnificent Freddie…
Freddie is a young and impressionable woman who might think herself strong and ambitious but is full of fears that contribute to this wonderful portrait of a very real and believable human being. She’s not a police officer, she’s hopeless with blood and gore. Seeing the murder victims does her no good at all and the pressure to catch the killer keeps her awake at night. And one way that she relieves the pressure on herself is through dry wit. She doesn’t take herself or others on the police team too seriously, even though she is vulnerable and quick to wound and be hurt. She is fully aware of the pitfalls of social media and she finds humour in that, too. The book itself uses Twitter abbreviations to head chapters, a guide for the reader that is as amusing as it is informative.
The character of Freddie is quite possibly the main reason why I loved Follow Me so much. Her life is all over the place but she’s also very young. She’s intelligent and so kind and there’s no reason at all why she shouldn’t sort herself out. Her friendship with Nas is such a strong element of the book. Something went wrong years ago to end it and it’s clear that both women miss their friendship, almost like a physical ache. That is conveyed beautifully. So much comfort can come from the touch of a hand.
The plot itself is great! I had no idea what would happen next and I couldn’t wait to find out. I loved the idea that each chapter begins with the follower count of the killer. I really enjoyed spending time with this team of police. They rage and fret, they comfort one another and they hurl insults. This is no easy place for a young woman to be – Nas has a hard time. Nas, just like Freddie, is growing into herself. It’s a rough journey. There are other people here, too, who have to fight for survival in what can be a cruel world.
Follow Me might be one of the last novels I’ll read in 2015 but it’s undoubtedly one of the books I’ve enjoyed the most this year. Angela Clarke has, for me, perfectly combined the serious and the light, real life and the world that is projected on social media. It’s clearly a timely novel but nothing is allowed to take precedence over good storytelling, fine characterisation and a great plot.