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FIRST TO DIE by Alex Caan (Riley and Zain #2) @alexcaanwriter @BonnierZaffre @imosebba

June 11, 2018


Source: Netgalley

Publication: 14th June 2018 from Bonnier Zaffre

PP 368

ISBN: 978-1785761881



Bonfire Night and St James’s Park is filled with thousands of Anonymous protesters in a stand-off with the police. When a cloaked, Guido Fawkes mask-wearing body is discovered the following morning, Kate Riley and Zain Harris from the Police Crime Commissioner’s office are called in.

The corpse has been eaten away by a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus. The autopsy reveals the victim was a senior civil servant, whose work in international development involved saving lives. Why would anyone want him dead?



As the research team looking into the origins of the deadly virus scramble to discover an antidote, first one, then another pharmacist goes missing. Meanwhile, a dark truth starts to emerge about the murder victim: he was an aggressive man, whose bullying behaviour resulted in the suicide attempt of one of his former staff members.



With thirty lives potentially at stake, Kate and Zain have their work cut out for them. Can they find the two missing pharmacists in time, or will they too end up dead?


Bio terrorism is certainly a deeply fearful, timely and relevant topic for today and in First To Die, Alex Caan has believably and chillingly created among the most awful of deadly killers I have come across.

It’s Bonfire night and in Westminster thousands of Anonymous supporters have gathered. All dressed in their trademark white Guy Fawkes masks and black cloaks. D.S. Zain Harris is among them, part of an undercover operation trying to spot serious troublemakers, but in truth he’s more on their side than on his bosses’.

Trouble breaks out and Zain is caught in the middle of it, having tried and failed to stop a Molotov cocktail from wreaking havoc on the crowd. After the dust has settled, a dead body is found lying in the park, disguised in a similar fashion to the now dispersed protestors of the previous evening.

But this is no ordinary death. This man’s body is covered in boils, blisters and lesions and as soon as they have seen what is left of his face, both D.C.I. Kate Riley and pathologist Dr Rani Kapoor are carted off to for examination and possible decontamination by the Dept for Communicable Diseases.

Before that happens, though, Rani discovers that the deceased has an identity card on him, belonging to a high ranking official in DFID.  Zain is tasked with investigating whilst Kate tries to discover and understand what has caused such a catastrophic meltdown in this once human corpse.

As she explores the scientific world of neurotoxins and Category A viruses, one thing is clear; if there is more of this stuff out in the world, it will have deadly repercussions.

Riley and Harris are up against it as they seek the extremely sparse clues that will lead them to a serial killer. This is police procedure at its best. The team painstakingly examine every angle from the deceased’s private life to his work and social circle, yet they are left without much to go on.

As more dead bodies turn up, it’s hard to see what the links are; yet these are clearly not random killings and each death is horribly violent.

Though this is the second book in the Riley/Harris series, it can be read as a stand-alone as sufficient background is given for the reader to understand the characters’ backstories and relationships – which are extremely interesting.

Impressively plotted and well written this is both a chilling tale and highly enjoyable book. I did, though, find the pace a little bit erratic, especially towards the end when the tension that had been building seemed to slip away a little until the shocking climax arrived.

I think this is because there is a recurring narrative arc involving Riley’s backstory which isn’t resolved in the book but leads you into wanting to read the next one in order to find out more. That’s all well and good, but somewhere in the editing process, it has slowed things down a bit.

Nonetheless, it’s a great story, well told and I will certainly read the next in the series.

Verdict: Great storyline!



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About Alex Caan

alex caan

Alex Caan was born in Manchester, has spent over a decade working in information systems security for a number of government organisations, and is currently specialising in Terrorism Studies. A lifetime passion for writing was sparked by the encouraging words of an English teacher in school, and eventually led to Alex successfully completing an MA in Creative Writing and writing his first novel, Cut to the Bone.

Follow Alex on Twitter @alexcaanwriter

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