Book Review – If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

Published: 11th January 2018
Genre: Psychological Mystery
Trigger warnings: Suicide, sexual references

Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, he can only listen.

But he soon begins to suspect that his accident wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

Alex must use a series of clues from his past to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him. He needs to protect those he loves – before they decide to let him go…

This is a book that achieves a singularly impressive feat by telling a story entirely from the point of view of a character lying dormant on a hospital bed, recovering from injuries that left him in a coma. Emily Koch shows immense skill to use this technique in an effective way that brings a unique and quietly compelling mystery to life.

Alex is a journalist and climbing enthusiast who suffered a near-fatal accident while scaling a section of the Avon Gorge in Bristol. The fall left him in a coma, and over a year later his condition is showing few tangible signs of improvement, to the extent that close family and friends are contemplating the idea of ending his treatment.

But unknown to everyone including the doctors administering his care, Alex can hear everything that is said by those around him, and make out their outlines. From the things he hears, he learns that the fall which left him in a coma was no accident, leading to a desperate search for clues leading to the person who wants him dead.

The whole concept feels original, and it offers a different take on a mystery novel. The narrative is such that you cannot escape being immersed in Alex’s thoughts. It was an interesting change in itself to actually come across a male narrator in this genre. There may be flaws to his character, but you just end up living every moment with him as he initially wishes to be allowed to die, but later becomes absorbed in attempting to uncover the truth. In this respect, it is excellent writing.

For me, the rest of the characters were a bit of a mixed bag. At first I thought there were too many characters and it was difficult to tell them apart, but this was easier as the story went on. Alex’s girlfriend Bea was believable, and her growing vulnerability came across well. His sister Philippa was also very complex, but I was hardly taken by any of the rest, and it was disappointing to me how the doctors and nursing staff were portrayed in such a negative way.

One by-product of having a single narrator who is recovering from a coma, is that the whole book takes place in just one setting; the hospital ward where Alex is being treated. This has a large role to play in the story, as all the reader has to go on in terms of trying to unravel the mystery are the snippets of conversations that Alex overhears.

The clues are uncovered by paying attention to every small detail, such as who visits Alex at any one time, and every throwaway remark they utter in his presence. Suspicion is cast on a range of characters, and the answer is well hidden. However, when the revelation does come, it lacks the kind of impact it should have.

I was very impressed by several aspects of the writing, especially the way Alex is brought to life through his swirling thoughts and emotions, and his desire to prove to everyone that he is awake and can move. That said, there were some parts of the book which I found less captivating, and it took a long time for the tension to arrive. It does eventually increase as the story progresses.

Overall, there were a number of things I liked very much about this book. The concept was innovative, and executed smartly with the help of a compelling narrator. I just felt an absence of tension in parts, and there were small issues with the ending and some of the characters, but the writing ensured that I shall look back on this read in a positive light.

As seems to be the case for a number of mystery or thriller authors, Emily Koch was a journalist before she turned her hand to writing novels. She uses her experiences here to help to Alex’s story.
Living in Bristol with her husband, If I Die Before I Wake was her first novel, and it has been shortlisted for several awards. Her next book, Keep Him Close, is due to be released in 2020.

I enjoyed several aspects of this book, and you will rarely see a narrator in a mystery such as Alex. Some things may have been better, but the writing was strong throughout.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

6 thoughts on “Book Review – If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

  1. Interesting idea and I can see how following the main character’s thoughts as he tries to find out the person who wishes him harm may be engaging. I am not a huge fan of thrillers with too many characters though (after just reading one with around 10 characters, none of which were main characters) so will probably skip this one. Great review as always, Stephen 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there were a lot of intriguing aspects to this book and it was definitely unique in some ways. I completely understand what you mean about too many characters, I’m not always a great fan of those either. Thank you, Darina, and happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s