There’s a murderer on the loose in an elite boarding school… But who is going to be next? This Book Kills is the deadliest YA thriller of 2023, perfect for fans of Holly Jackson and Karen McManus.
“I’ll make it clear from the start: I did not kill Hugh Henry Van Boren.
I didn’t even help. Well, not intentionally.”
When Hugh Henry Van Boren, one of the most popular and richest kids in Jess Choudhary’s school, is found dead, the student body is left reeling and wondering who the murderer could be… Jess, a student under strict instructions to keep her record clean or risk losing her scholarship, finds herself at the centre of the investigation when it’s revealed that Hugh died in the exact same way as a character in a short story she wrote.
And then Jess receives an anonymous text thanking her for the inspiration.
With time running out, Jess knows if she doesn’t solve this mystery she’ll finally have something in common with Hugh Henry.
She’ll be dead too.
About the book
This Book Kills is a YA thriller set in an elite boarding school. Its main character, Jess Choudhary, finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation when one of her classmates is killed the same way as a character in her short story – and the murderer sends her a text, thanking her for the inspiration. If she doesn’t figure out who the killer is, she’ll be next.
This Book Kills is based on my experiences of entering the legal profession and being surrounded by people who had gone to private schools and wondering what advantages that had given them over someone like me, who had gone to a state school. We all ended up working at the same law firms – what did their educations give them that mine didn’t give me? What, exactly, were their parents paying for? From that starting point, the themes of power and privilege felt very natural to explore. On a basic level, I like murder-mysteries with a closed cast – the boarding school setting helps to limit the number of people suspected. Plus in YA it’s nice to write a world where you don’t have to wonder why the parents aren’t more involved! A boarding school is a great setting for that.
But also, the elite boarding school works really well to highlight the key themes of the book – power, privilege, classism…
About the author
The MG and YA books I read when I was younger are the ones that shaped me as a reader, the ones that had a lasting impression on me. When I came to write my own books, it felt natural for me to gravitate towards books aimed at younger readers.
Agatha Christie is one of the few adult authors I would read as a teen – I loved how she set out puzzles in her book, how a mystery is like a game between reader and author.
When I wrote This Book Kills, then, I knew it was going to be a YA – and it absolutely had to be a mystery. I had so much fun writing it that the initial first draft was written in the space of three weeks because I just couldn’t wait to get back to the story.
I’m more productive with my writing if I’m outcome focused. So, for example, I’ll say to myself my target for today is 2000 words and I’ll go for however long it takes to make sure that happens, because that’s the outcome I want. If I say to myselfI’ve got three hours to write, I’ll only manage about 50 words because I’ll ironically think I’ve got plenty of time – and then I do nothing. I think that’s the legal background coming into play – working towards outcomes with a bit of time-pressure. My biochemistry degree helped me learn how to break down complex problems. Now, when I’m editing, I try to break drafts down issue by issue, I order these issues methodically from biggest to smallest, and I work my way through step-by-step. I can’t say that I never get overwhelmed by editing issues, but the process does help me.
About the characters
Jess is such a fantastic protagonist and one I think a lot of people will connect to, as an outsider in a place that does not wish to see her succeed.
The character of Jess came to me fairly formed – this quiet, British-Indian teen who feels out of place at an elite boarding school. I drew on my own experiences of going to law school and then going on to work in the legal world, of being surrounded by people who had gone to private schools and boarding schools and wondering if I could really fit in. But even though I had the core of who Jess was going to be from the start, she still did develop a lot in the editing process. In earlier drafts, other characters would be quite horrible toJess and there would be occasions where she would want to scream back at them – and I let her. It felt really nice to have this character saying things I sometimes wanted to say – but that’s not who Jess is and it’s not realistic to the situation she’s in. She’s worried her scholarship will be taken away – she feels like the safest thing to do is keep quiet. So as the edits progressed I had her internalize a lot of the sarcastic, snarky comments she’s thinking – she appears to be quiet, but she’s got so many thoughts brimming beneath the surface.
..speaking of soundtracks and adaptations..
Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean, Rich Kids by FLØRE, Favourite Crime by Olivia Rodrigo, When the Party’s Over by Billie Eilish, I Wish I Never Met You by Babygirl, Silence by Marshmello, The Author by Luz..
A young Parminder Nagra for Jess, Sadie Sink for Clem, a younger Dylan O’Brien for Tommy (but with blue eyes!), a blond Jacob Eldori for Hugh, Saoirse Ronan for Summer..
Ideally, I’d love to have a cast of completely unknown British actors playing the main teenagers.