June 24, 2019

You Owe Me a Murder

Written by Eileen Cook
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
359 pp.
Ages 13+
March 2019

Travel provides opportunities for new experiences, for meeting new people, and for personal growth.  But for seventeen-year-old Kim, her summer trip to London with Student Scholars for Change seems doomed from the beginning. Not only is she no longer in a relationship with Connor for whom she'd initially signed up for the trip, he is travelling with new girlfriend Miriam, and Kim has to watch it all from the sidelines of their small group of eight Vancouver high schoolers. But after meeting English girl Nicki, who challenges her to steal a bottle of duty-free vodka and lets her vent about Connor all the way to London, Kim is ready to find "a new me" (pg. 41), one that could be daring and isn't a quitter.
Being good at something doesn't mean that it isn't hard or scary–it just means that you keep moving forward when other people quit. (pg.25)
But in that vodka-infused venting session, Kim prepares a list titled "WHY I HATE CONNOR O'REILLY AND WHY HE DESERVES TO DIE" and Nicki suggests that she will kill Connor and Kim could kill Nicki's mom whose alcoholism is making her life miserable. Of course, Kim barely remembers their laughable discussion until Connor is killed in a Tube station and she gets a message that reads "You're welcome" along with the news story about his death.

Panicking, Kim doesn't know to whom she can turn. Worse still, the police begin investigating and Kim realizes her silence about her relationship with Connor is going to make her look suspicious. Worst of all, Nicki still has the incriminating document and is using it to blackmail Kim into murdering her mother.

So while sightseeing in London and relishing a budding romance, Kim tries to evade a drunken commitment to homicide, investigate the mysterious Nicki, and keep herself and others safe from a girl who purports to be owed a murder.

I would call You Owe Me a Murder a roller-coaster except that ride suggests highs and lows and twists and turns and this young adult novel has no lows. From start to finish, it's more like a high-wire act: tense, dangerous, and unrelenting. With Eileen Cook's exceptional plotting, You Owe Me a Murder becomes a magnificent melding of relationship angst with psychological thriller. It's a waiting game for the reader who is compelled to read through to learn whether Kim will go with through the murder pact or become victim to Nicki's vengeance. With characters like Kim and Nicki, and even secondary ones like Connor, Miriam and Alex, You Owe Me a Murder becomes a complex study in human behaviour as young people fall in and out of love or lust, seek revenge and fulfilment, and try to discover who they really are and what they are capable of being and doing.

Like Hitchcock's movie Strangers on a Train, Eileen Cook's You Owe Me a Murder demonstrates that meeting the right or wrong person can turn your life upside-down, and finding the way to right things may require courage and recognition that the truth hides in the details. (pg. 324)


  1. Wow! This book sounds incredible.

    1. I love a good thriller and this one is great. Solid mystery without excessive violence of many today. There’s a good reason Eileen Cook won last year’s John Spray Mystery Award.