Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach
Published: 4 July 2013 by Picador
Pages: 337 (hardcover)
Genre/s: Thriller, Mystery
Source: Own library
When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the website's founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, and is flattered when he invites her to be part of "Project Tess."
Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they email, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman--because soon, Leila will have to become her.
I'm not a huge reader of crime thrillers, but throw in the suggestion of a mental unstable character and I'll change my mind immediately. I love the intensity of books where the characters are so unpredictable, and in the good ones, it's almost impossible to figure out where things are going next. And this is the reason I picked up a copy of Kiss Me First - it's main character is very naive and hints at the possibility of instability.
Leila isn't the most likeable character, although I found it quite easy to sympathise with her. Kiss Me First begins with almost the ending (if that makes any sense), as Leila finds herself in a commune in Spain, with a photograph of a woman in hand, asking the regulars if they had seen her the year before. Leila's life hasn't been easy - raised only by her mother, she struggles to fit in socially, and after moving out of the family home, she settles in a small flat above an Indian takeaway in a suburb of London, far away from anyone she knows.
It doesn't take long for Leila to retreat further into her own shell, finding work as a software tester, and spending hours playing online games and surfing the internet, she eventually comes across Red Pill. Red Pill isn't the type of website that I would visit, but I can see how it appealed to Leila's nature and how she found the interactions to be pretty addictive.
There's a huge amount to the plot that the synopsis doesn't reveal, but what I can say is that this book spirals - as Leila becomes more and more involved in Red Pill, she also starts to develop inappropriate behaviours and fixations and it's like watching a car crash - I couldn't look away.
Ending a book like this was always going to be a big ask, and although the intensity is pitch-perfect, everything felt a little bit too neat - especially considering everything that had happened to Leila during the course of the book, and it felt to me a little bit like she was being let off the hook for the things she had done.
As a debut, Kiss Me First is pretty damn impressive - it's tense, the plot is unique and unpredicatable, and the characters, although not likeable, are startlingly real. It was only the ending that left me a little bit unsatisfied, but it could definitely work for other readers.