Everybody’s dying to find true love, right?
With a premise that seems like the unholy love child between Gone Girl, Dexter and Killing Eve, Bad Men barrels out of the gate as one of the year’s best dark comedies, blending acerbic wit and a thrilling plot with the kind of sincerity only an avowed sociopath could swear to.
The latest novel from author Julie Cohen (here as Julie Mae Cohen), Bad Men follows the brilliantly-named Saffy Huntley-Oliver, an American heiress slumming it in Chelsea, as she follows her passion of involuntarily euthanising – aka murdering – the eponymous bad men, while also pursuing Jonathan Desrosiers, a famous true-crime podcaster. Saffy’s victims range from childhood sexual abusers to vile MPs, and it’s hard to muster much sympathy for them, particularly when Saffy has such satisfaction in bumping them off.
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Saffy herself is one of the year’s best characters, simultaneously pitch-dark in her execution but luminous in nature, attracting all to her like a siren’s song, just so she can deem them unworthy and drown them in her family’s swimming pool. While not your classic brooding sociopath – Saffy’s fiercely protective relationship with her sweet, if romantically misguided sister Susie is a highlight of the novel – Saffy is more than capable of being a deadly force on her own in her path to acquire Jonathan and help him solve a grizzly crime that has (literally) landed on his doorstep. Whether that’s sweet-talking a club bouncer for secrets or (very non-lethally, this reviewer stresses) punting a rescue dog into a well as a way of engineering a meet-cute, Saffy is a force of nature to behold on the page.
It’s a shame then that Saffy is lumbered with Jonathan of all people who, pretty and intrepid as he may be, is a bit of a cliche of a man. Troubled and brooding? Check. Crumbling relationship with his wife? Check. Fighting to be better than his negligent father while also helping to solve a string of grizzly murders? Checks across the board. In another novel, Jonathan would be that dynamic hero, an amateur podcaster turned perennial serial-killer sleuth, but here he’s Saffy’s Girl Friday, pushed to the sidelines. The subversion is a nice touch, and Jonathan certainly isn’t unlikeable, but next to Saffy he’s all but toothless and given that half of the novel belongs to his perspective, it makes things a little less interesting.
Other characters get some generalised development – Susie is sweet but defined by her relationship with her cheating, hapless tech-bro boyfriend, while Jonathan’s editor Edie and her wife are both lovely but get little page-time to really make an impact as part of Bad Men‘s story as things race towards the tense finale which sees Saffy and Jonathan try to uncover the identity of a serial killer stalking Jonathan’s every move.
Bad Men is a novel for anyone obsessed with Killing Eve, anyone obsessed with Taylor Swift’s song ‘Mastermind’, and for anyone who has watched fan edits combining the two (#Villaneve). It’s an uneven, glorious slice of dark comedy that debuts one of the funniest anti-heroines in recent years and is a riotous ride from start to finish. If this is the only time that Saffy graces bookshelves, her story ends largely satisfyingly; if not, then this reviewer cannot wait until she pops up once more, crossing names off her list, and improving the world, one bad man at a time.
Bad Men is out now from Zaffre.