Dead Ringer

Written by Nicola Martin

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a financial journalist who lives in Leeds but hails from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris.

Dead Ringer
RRP: £8.99
Released: February 27 2020

I expected to dislike this book - the dust jacket threatened yet another ‘millennial woman in peril who gets out through her wits’ tale. Read that, unimpressed there.

The surprise at how much I enjoyed it doubled my fun. There is some of girl in jeopardy trope in Dead Ringer, but a great deal more. There is also whiff of the ‘bitchlit’ subgenre (e.g. Single White Female) and countless retells of what happens when lives are swapped. But the book is also a serious meditation on who we are, when we spend hours and hours on social media. Much of social media activity is pretending to be something we are not or puffing up what our lives actually contain, and that reinvention can be dizzying or even dangerous. Wrapping those ideas within a fast-moving thriller, Dead Ringer posits interesting questions about identity at a time when we can remake our image daily, hourly even (in cyberspace at any rate). 

Our two millennials are both Facebook/Twitter/etc mavens. Ella Mosier and Jemima Cootes-Mitchell first connect via an app called MeetYourDouble, a service guaranteed to appeal to self-obsessed 20-somethings. The two women are similar in age, identical in appearance and eons removed in terms of socio-economic background.

They meet through the app that does what is says on the tin and finds you a doppelganger if one exists. In London, where wrong side of the tracks and the country native Ella trains down from Cumbria to meet glamourous lookalike Jem in person. And glam our Jem is. She lives in the loveliest flat, dates the nicest fellow, has the most woke social circle and puts only the finest powder up her nose. Except when she is on hock to her dealer, the deeply unpleasant Carlo. Which she is.  

Jem does not tell Ella how deeply in the hole she is and barely admits the debt to herself. Double-barrelled Jem is the poor little rich girl’s poor little rich girl. She shows her new bestie the sheen and the shine and the great clothes but hides the neediness at her core.

Ella is also a mess. A university drop-out, unlucky in love, unemployed and quasi-unemployable. She lives in an unlovely bit of Cumbria, over-protected by her parents and treated as a free babysitting service by her bestie. Her brother is a wastrel and her zero-hour jobs soul-destroying. Ella hops a train to London on a whim, which the reader can interpret as a desire to escape the drudgery. Or something else, perhaps.

The relationship between these two broken women evolves over the first quarter of the book. Few readers will be surprised when almost by mistake, the women decide to swap lives for a spell. Jem heads north and Ella straight back to London. The switcheroo is short in duration but impactful for both girls.  

If lying is a crime, if refusing to mature is a crime, if coveting what others have is a crime, then this is a crime novel. One character does come to a sticky end but this is not a traditional crime novel.

Rather it is well paced and for the most part believable (Jem passing as Ella to Ella’s parents was a stretch for me) Freaky Friday cautionary tale. Ella and Jemima are fully rounded characters. The sketchy nature of various friends and enemies worked well in a story where narcissism, deception and superficiality are characters in the own right.

It is a cracking read and we can expect more good things from Martin. I am willing to bet her next outing will not be a carbon copy of Ringer.

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