Freddie Venton is an aspiring journalist, but for all the writing she has done there is little money or advancement to show for it. Instead her days are spent dishing out coffee at Espressoh’s. Then she sees an old school friend Nasreen Cudmore working as an undercover cop. After tagging Nasreen’s phone through social media, Freddie follows her and stumbles into a crime scene. The killer has a Twitter account and is using it to announce their achievements and their next victim. Because of her expertise in using social media, and to prevent her writing about the crimes, Freddie is hired by the police. Now all she has to do is think faster than the ‘Hashtag Murderer’ (Twitter username @Apollyon). But working to catch the killer requires Freddie to think about social media in a whole new way. It is a steep learning curve made all the more difficult by past events coming back to haunt both Freddie and Nasreen.
The story starts brilliantly, with punchy, sharp observations of a crime scene from the viewpoint of a civilian. The rest of the book also has a sense of precision in that the author doesn’t waste words and packs a whole lot of information in without making you feel as if you’re getting indigestion.
This is probably not surprising because Angela Clarke’s background is in journalism. This shows through in the understanding of Freddie’s predicament in trying to find work and her relationship with other journalists, as well as her understanding of how media exposure can backfire on you. The journalist in the author also comes through in her writing technique of making the most of the words. This creates clean prose, which really makes the plot rattle along.
Angela’s approach of largely ‘tell’ not ‘show’, the opposite of the current writing wisdom, is another interesting feature of the book. Blended in with great dialogue, you are really able to get a sense of all the characters and the drama. Although given Angela has recently written a play, she must have benefited from the approaches needed to establish character through dialogue. Freddie is certainly not easy to love, but it will be a hard-hearted reader who is not emotionally involved with her by the end of the book.
A crime story involving the police with young protagonists in their early twenties makes a refreshing change. Although it is hard to believe that the police would hire a loose cannon like Freddie, it really doesn’t matter because the story is everything. Freddie does need to be young to be able to understand the many ways in which social media can be harnessed. What is interesting is that in order to align herself with the methodical nature of police procedure, Freddie has to learn a whole new way of thinking and begin to discipline herself to do her job properly, as well as facing many of her fears. This twist is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Follow Me. The story is not some super-cool cyber unit talking technobabble, but largely the down and dirty process of Freddie thinking on her feet with her smart phone buzzing with the latest message, and having to weld her usual method of ‘thinking outside the box’ to a system designed to logically work through facts. Her new job also places enormous responsibility on Freddie to get it right, because the next potential victim is out there waiting for @Apollyon’s attentions.
Anyone reading Follow Me will learn a great deal about what information can be gleaned from the use of social media, computers and smart phones.
It’s a pretty scary world out there in the ether.
I was able to read Follow Me courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley