#MurderTrending has a great concept but feels destined to be dated

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Although Gretchen McNeil’s latest comes with people who unironically go by names like Cecil B. DeViolent, #MurderTrending doesn’t quite stick the landing.

It’s funny that it takes #MurderTrending (and yes, the hashtag is part of the name) so long to make a reference to The Hunger Gamesor that it makes a reference at all, actually. Surely Gretchen McNeil would put this in a world that’s similar to, but not exactly like, our own, considering that the movies grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide?

Not only that, she’s set the book in a world where the current president is still the current president. This all makes the book feel very 2018 on one level, which also means that past about 2020 or so, it might not really have any staying power.

Conceptually, the book takes place in an America where Alcatraz 2.0 exists, and the Postman (and oh yes, there’s a The Postman Always Rings Twice shout-out, don’t you worry) has created a media sensation with executioners like Gucci Hangman, Cecil B. DeViolent, and Hannah Ball (say it out loud, then add Lecter to the end) taking prisoners down in exceedingly wild ways. Dee Guerrera, though, is innocent, and the whole scheme seems to be tied way more to her than it appears at first glance.

None of this is bad, exactly, because it’s hard not to enjoy the terrible puns. But when there’s also the conspiracy theory added on as well as the constant interruptions from social media, there’s little in the way of legitimate chills or time for reflection. The Hunger Games at least made us think for 30 seconds after we left the theater or finished the book. #MurderTrending had me saying “I can’t believe that Death Row Breakfast Club was a phrase I had to read multiple times, probably because American Horror Story got to Dead Breakfast Club in season 1.”

And perhaps this is, in some way, the point McNeil is trying to make. Maybe we’re so concerned with entertainment that we fail to see what’s really happening; the old defense of “oh, that can’t happen here” seems particularly weak these days.

But the thing is, that’s also undercut by Dee’s special connection to the existence of Alcatraz 2.0 and the diction. There’s a point at which “wigged out” is used completely unironically, and Dee is special despite claiming she’s nothing like Katniss Everdeen. Dee even gets a name put on her just like Katniss: #CinderellaSurvivor, meet the Mockingjay.

Next. 20 books to binge at the beach. dark

Ultimately, there are some great action sequences to enjoy here, but readers might be left wishing that they went for The Hunger Games or even Battle Royale. Thanks to Freeform Books for sending the review copy along.