Swipe Right For Murder shoots high, aiming for satire, action, comedy, and drama all at once. Unfortunately, it falls short of all, ending up as an incoherent, unpleasant read.

Book Cover: Swipe Right For Murder

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On the run from the FBI.
Targeted by a murderous cult.
Labeled a cyber-terrorist by the media.
Irritated texts from his best friend.
Eye contact with a nice-looking guy on the train.
Aidan has a lot to deal with, and he’s not quite sure which takes top priority.

Finding himself alone in a posh New York City hotel room for the night, Aidan does what any red-blooded seventeen-year-old would do—he tries to hook up with someone new. But that lapse in judgement leads to him waking up next to a dead guy, which sparks an epic case of mistaken identity that puts Aidan on the run from everyone—faceless federal agents, his eccentric family, and, naturally, a cyber-terrorist group who will stop at nothing to find him.

He soon realizes the only way to stop the chase is to deliver the object everyone wants, before he gets caught or killed. But for Aidan, the hardest part is knowing who he can trust not to betray him—including himself.



“This whole place–where they’re ironically now playing trap music–is a fucking trap.”

Swipe Right For Murder was not for me in a major way.

It can be hard to tell how much of that is because of the book and how much is just about me, but I’ve done my best to break it down.

Let’s start with the man himself, our hapless hero, Aidan Jamison. There’s a healthy dose of “it’s not you, it’s me” in my inability to connect with Aidan as a character.

To quote from the jacket copy, “…alone in a posh New York City hotel room for the night, Aidan does what any red-blooded seventeen-year-old would do—he tries to hook up with someone new.” I recognize that this blurb is tongue-in-cheek, but that’s essentially the character we’re given, and it’s just not a person I have much in common with–especially since Aidan’s version of “hook up with someone new” is going to the hotel room of an unknown adult man he found on a hookup app. That’s an instinct I personally can’t relate to.

But I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing actually wrong with a protagonist I can’t relate too. I have plenty of favorite reads that feature protagonists I have nothing in common with. But those stories give me something else to hang my hat on, some way of understanding the character’s choices and connecting to their emotions.

Aidan, unfortunately, is a character that I’m not sure anyone is like. Our backgrounds and experiences and identities are very different, yes, but it’s much more than that. Aidan’s choices and reactions never became coherent to me. I can’t understand or empathize with him.

From the third chapter until almost the end of the book, Aidan is in near-constant mortal danger. (That set-up brings some real pacing/plot problems that I don’t even have time to get into.) I was simply not able to understand a character who, when in such serious peril for the first time ever, has no problem pausing the running-for-his-life to have arguments about his friends’ relationships or whine about unrelated insecurities or make Drag Race references. Constantly.

It kind of reminded me of the characters on the TV show Archer, who bicker and joke throughout top-secret deadly spy missions. But in that case, there are two important differences: First, Archer and his colleagues, despite their constant screw-ups, are supposed to be highly-trained spies who are in danger all the time. They’re used to this! They have it under control! In fact, the bickering just serves to show how competent they are. Secondly, and more importantly, Archer never tries to get profound on me. It doesn’t try to reach for some deep moral or dive into characters’ unironically tragic backstories. It’s able to pull off being a slapstick comedy with guns because that’s all it’s trying to be.

Archer handcuffs

Swipe Right For Murder, on the other hand, wants to be everything at once. It wants to serve rapid-fire jokes, mining the juxtaposition of high stakes with petty teenage concerns. But it also wants to be an elevated discussion of homophobia and abuse, preaching messages straight to the readers. It wants to be satire, but also drag me through completely serious flashbacks of abuse. In trying to be everything, the book isn’t able to succeed at anything.

I can get on board with comedic action, but if large numbers of innocent people are dying, it’s not going to work for me. Milman had complete irreverence for the casualties piling up but still expected me to be invested in Aidan’s pains and problems. The result was a book every bit as self-absorbed as Aidan. It’s realistic for a teenage boy to be self-involved, sure, but when the entire book has the same ego-centric approach, I come away feeling gross.

“Leave it to me: simultaneously worried about not fitting in, yet terrified I was a boring suburban clone with my whole life laid out before me.”

I tried for a while to rationalize making this a three-star read. After all, some of the problem was a simple miss-match between the book and me. Even if the book were perfect executed, it still probably wouldn’t have been my cup of tea. But reviewing my notes, I find little that I thought was done well. From the insincere voice trying painfully hard to sound young to the thinly-drawn side characters built on racial stereotypes, Swipe Right For Murder was an unpleasant read all the way through.

The only aspect I would recommend is the handling of Aidan’s coming out to his parents, referenced in some flashbacks near the middle of the book. There’s specificity and even some unexpected nuance to those scenes that OwnVoices readers might find particularly engaging. Even that recommendation, however, comes with a big asterisk. I’m very skeptical of the book’s representation of gay men and boys in particular. I’ll link to some OwnVoices reviews when I find some that address the rep in depth.

Content warnings for Swipe Right For Murder include:

Death, serious injury (on-page and graphic, by/of POV character)
Homophobia (mostly challenged in-text)
Racial stereotypes (in character descriptions, unchallenged)
Abusive relationship (Young teen boy and adult man, semi-challenged)
Substance abuse (teenage drinking and drug use, unchallenged)
Suicide (off-page)
Sexual content (on- and off-page sex, including sex between consenting teenagers, sex between teens and adults, sex within relationships, sex with strangers/hookups)
POV internalized homophobia and self-loathing
Family death (death of a sibling, off-page past)

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a review copy at no cost. No money exchanged hands for this review and all opinions are my own.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER by Derek Milman”

  1. This review rubs me the wrong way for so many reasons…and after a quick scan of your troubling back catalogue, so do all your other reviews. Um, let’s focus on this one though.

    First of all, many of my gay bookish friends read an early version of SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER and loved it, and were affected by it. Only a 2 second scan of Goodreads reviews from other men reading the book can confirm that. Plus, this is an OwnVoices book, meaning the author himself is gay, so not sure where you get off, as a white (presumably straight?) woman being “skeptical” of the author’s rep of “gay men and boys.” So check yourself.

    I have no idea at all where your comparison to ARCHER comes in. It’s an overrated (at times only slightly clever) dizzying retro-pastiche show. You might as well compare SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER to Chekhov. If ARCHER is your intellectual ceiling, I suggest you stick with cartoons.

    Sometimes people who have suffered abuse use humor, and sometimes a bumbling, inappropriately-timed humor, as a defense mechanism. I know. And sometimes privilege doesn’t protect you from the predators of the world. I know that too. I thought this book handled that so well. So I disagree that Aidan is a character “that no one is like.” Quite a statement.

    Books that “don’t succeed at anything” don’t get starred trade reviews and make every fancy list out there. So maybe it is you? You certainly seem like you have an ax to grind.

    Let’s examine this quote:

    “Milman had complete irreverence for the casualties piling up”

    Uh, do you mean “indifference”? Which again, is not true, but to quote The Princess Bride: “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

    Also, it’s Scotty, the principle villain, who quotes Drag Race. Not Aidan. Not continuously. Not even once.

    It’s fine to hate a book, I do all the time, but when you write shit out of ignorance, or with a misunderstanding of basic facts about the book and the story it tells, and bump all that bullshit up with an ARCHER gif…I get offended.

    1. Hi Zadie,

      Thanks for the reply. Sorry to hear you didn’t find the review helpful. I hope it goes without saying (although maybe I should note it in each review?) that a review is my personal response to a book, not anyone else’s, and everyone is going to respond differently.

      Because you had a few specific questions/issues, let me try to clear a couple things up. (Of course, you’re entitled to your opinion, and I won’t try to change your mind, just provide more info on where I’m coming from.)

      1) Maybe I should have worded that differently, but in saying I was “skeptical” of the rep, I was trying to be as accurate as possible. I’m exactly that: skeptical. A lot of the rep rubbed me the wrong way (representation of gay men as predatory, promiscuous, not to mention the terrorist revenge fantasy storyline) but I didn’t talk about that *at all* in my review. Why? Because I’m not an OwnVoices reader and I have no particular expertise in that area. My reaction was just that: skepticism. Not condemnation, just uncertainty and a bad feeling. That’s why I followed with a note that I would link to OwnVoices reviews that addressed the rep specifically. I read many reviews on Goodreads while prepping my review, and while I found many positive reviews, I didn’t find any that went into detail about the gay rep. We’re still a month out, though, so most reviews are yet to come. That’s why I’ll be watching for reviews (positive or negative) from OwnVoices readers that talk about what they got from the rep, beyond liking or not liking it.

      I’ll also thank you to not presume my sexuality.

      2) I guess I wasn’t clear enough about my comparison to Archer either. It’s not an “intellectual ceiling” for me, quite the opposite. I was citing Archer as an example of goofy, out-of-place humor in life-or-death situations. My point was that Archer *doesn’t* try to get “intellectual” or profound on me. That’s why I can laugh at it and not feel horrified. I meant to *contrast* this with Swipe Right, which has a combination of tones I found mismatched.

      3) Your point about humor as a coping mechanism is well-taken. That’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the book, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people felt that way. For me, though, it didn’t feel like that. It wasn’t just the humor that made me feel that Aidan wasn’t realistic, it was his response to danger. He moved from flight-or-flight to a state of relative relaxation in what seemed unreasonable to me. I personally couldn’t follow his perspective.

      I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Aidan’s experiences are unrealistic. In fact, I hoped to convey that the difference in our identities was *not* what made him inaccessible to me: “There’s a healthy dose of “it’s not you, it’s me” in my inability to connect with Aidan as a character…” “…I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing actually wrong with a protagonist I can’t relate too. I have plenty of favorite reads that feature protagonists I have nothing in common with. But those stories give me something else to hang my hat on, some way of understanding the character’s choices and connecting to their emotions. Aidan, unfortunately, is a character that I’m not sure anyone is like. Our backgrounds and experiences and identities are very different, yes, but it’s much more than that. Aidan’s choices and reactions never became coherent to me. I can’t understand or empathize with him.”

      4) In the line “Milman had complete irreverence for the casualties piling up,” I do mean “irreverence.” I’m a lousy speller so it’s not ridiculous to second-guess weird word-choice on my part, but I did write that sentence correctly. If you still have questions about that sentence, I can go into more detail about why I thought the handling of on- and off-page death in the book was irreverent and why that was an issue for me.

      5) You’re right about the Drag Race quote. I moved that from a different section and incorrectly attributed it to Aidan. The “continuously” is not meant to refer to Drag Race quotes, but to the way Aidan constantly stops the action to have unrelated conversations and smaller problems.

      Again, I don’t presume to think I’ll change your mind about anything here, I just wanted to acknowledge the things I think we agree on and clear up some confusion.

      I appreciate you reading with a critical eye. This is an OwnVoices book for an identity I don’t share, so it’s extra important that I have an open mind. If my review made you feel like I didn’t understand the “basic facts” of the story and don’t respect the different perspectives of OwnVoices readers, then that’s probably a failing of my writing. I appreciate the feedback.

      You’re of course welcome to reply, but by no means obligated.

      Have a nice day.
      Katie

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