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Low Life by Ryan David Jahn

The Blurb On The Back:

Simon Johnson is attacked in his LA apartment.

When he turns on the lights after the fight he realises two things: one, he has killed his attacker; two, the man has the same face as himself.

Over the coming days, Simon’s life will spiral out of control. He embarks on a gripping existential investigation, into his own murky past, and that of his would be killer, Jeremy Shackleford, who is now lying in Simon’s bathtub under forty gallons of ice.




Simon Johnson leads a dull life. He works as a number cruncher for an LA payroll company, has an uneasy friendship with two work colleagues but other socialises little, lives alone in a cruddy apartment and drives a cruddy car. When he wakes up in the middle of the night to find an intruder in his apartment, he’s forced into a fight for his life and he does so – killing the intruder in the process. Worse, he discovers that his attacker looks exactly like him. Shocked by their resemblance, Simon decides to keep the body under ice in his bath while he investigates who the man was. The result is to send him spiralling into an increasingly bizarre situation, one that intertwines his life with that of his would-be killer and leads to a shocking discovery.

Jahn’s second novel is a character study, charting the way in which a man’s life can tailspin after a horrific event. It’s deftly written and he artfully escalates the tension, combining it with some toe-curling brutality. Unfortunately neither Simon nor his attacker, Jeremy are characters who are easy to empathise with. They are both men who keep others at a distance and while Jahn gradually unveils the reason for it, it doesn’t bring the reader closer to understanding them.

A bigger problem though is that half-way through the book it becomes obvious where Jahn is taking the story, which makes the second half of the book predictable and undermines much of the quality in his writing. This is a shame because Jahn has a great deal of talent and the increasingly claustrophobic situation that Simon finds himself in, the apparent time jumps and his accompanying paranoia are all finely depicted and make for uncomfortable reading.

Ultimately, for me the quality of the writing wasn’t enough to mitigate against the predictability of the plot and while it’s a fast enough read with some strong individual scenes, it never rose above an okay read. Despite this, I will be checking out Jahn’s next book as he is clearly going to go on to bigger things.

The Verdict:

As a character study, this is a well written piece charting the main character’s loss of control and spiralling paranoia as his life is turned upside down. The problem though is that the plot hinges on a twist that is too predictable, which spoils the second half of the book (notwithstanding the excellent writing, which includes some toe curlingly gruesome scenes). I will read Jahn’s next book, but this book is unlikely to be the breakout he deserves.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC.

Cross-posted to books and bookworming.
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