David Bell began his career in the small horror press pool, but he moved up with the bigger fish with some smart and engaging suspense novels that put him on bestseller lists. The first of these was Cemetery Girl, which remains one of the darkest and most disturbing suspense novels I can think of. I gave his last hardcover novel, Layover, a positive review, but his newest has it beat.

The Request features a regular joe named Ryan Francis. He's successful, has a lovely wife and a delightful infant son. He's proud of his life, and he documents it well on social media. But Ryan Francis has a secret. A dark, nasty secret that is about to blow up his heavenly hipster existence.

The Request deals with repressed guilt and buried secrets, but it is even more a study of our dependence on social media. Many paint flattering and jealousy-inducing portraits of perfect lives on Facebook and Instagram. Others use it to piss and moan about their imperfect situations. Sometimes it gets nastier, with relentless antagonist attitudes about politics and current events. In some cases, the internet serves as a playground of deceit, manipulation, and betrayal.

Ryan Francis receives a request from an old college buddy. The guy, a relentless ne'er-do-well, needs a huge and dangerous favor. The initial impulse for Francis is to refuse, but when a terrible shame from his past is threatened to be uncovered, he reluctantly agrees. This not-so-simple request opens up a floodgate of trouble that threatens his comfortable life.

If Hitchcock were making films in the social media age, The Request is the kind of story he might make. This novel moves relentlessly, and the prose is quick and easy to race through. The subtexts take longer to digest.

I guessed one aspect of the puzzle early on in The Request, but there were still ample surprises in the novel. Cemetery Girl may have been more of a gut-punch, but I consider this new one to be the best book I've read so far from the very talented David Bell. If suspense is your bag, do yourself a favor and accept The Request.

Written by Mark Sieber

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