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Swipe Right for Murder
By Derek Milman
Foreword by James Patterson
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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—tries to hook up with someone new. But that lapse in judgement leads him to a room with a dead guy and a mysterious flash drive . . . two things that spark an epic case of mistaken identity that puts Aidan on the run—from the authorities, his friends, his family, the people who are out to kill him—and especially from his own troubled past.
Inspired by a Hitchcock classic, this whirlwind mistaken-identity caper has razor-sharp humor, devastating emotional stakes, and a thrilling storyline with an explosive conclusion to make this the most compelling YA novel of the year.
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It’s late afternoon at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and we’re splurging on ridiculously overpriced tea and discussing sudden death.
Unfortunately, the topic is all too relevant at the moment.
Spring break during my final year at Witloff Academy took something of a turn when two things happened.
The first thing was that my Aunt Meredith, who I barely know, was injured by a Vegas Hotel Death Ray.
So what happened is, they built this new hotel in Vegas. But the Swiss “starchitect” who designed the thing was apparently more concerned with his ego than the desert sun’s relationship to the concave shape of the building and how it might reflect off the glass front. They’re technically calling it a “solar convergence,” but let’s be honest: death ray sounds way cooler.
Everyone who was on the pool deck at noon caught on fire like caterpillars trapped under a magnifying glass. Okay, maybe not literal flames, but my aunt is hospitalized in Nevada with second-degree burns, and now we have to go visit her.
“It was hot enough to melt plastic cups, Aidan,” my mom told me on the phone, muffling a histrionic cry over a sister who she talks to once every seven years. Before I had a chance to consider how depressing it was that people were drinking out of plastic cups at a high-priced resort in Vegas, she added (as if she realized she hadn’t been judgmental enough yet): “I wish she would make better choices. And stop all that gambling. Vegas? Alone? She does these travel tours with endless casino stops. She just can’t stop moving.”
The second thing that happened involves my heart.
I’ve been having these stomach issues. I have a lot of stress at school and the nurse thought I might have an ulcer. So I saw a doctor in town who prescribed antacids and for the hell of it gave me an EKG, which yielded an “abnormal result,” meaning they thought my heart might be enlarged or something.
Of course my mom freaked out, because that’s what she does. She’s always been something of a high-functioning hysteric, but her freaking definitely got more severe after I hit seventh grade; it’s been on a downward spiral ever since. Immediately, specialists were called, tests arranged, appointments scheduled. I can’t count all the e-mails over this.
“Aw, your heart’s too big for this world!” my best friend Jackson told me, laughing.
Right off the train this morning, I cabbed it to a hospital on the Upper East Side for my echocardiogram. This involved a very nice lady pressing a transducer into my chest for half an hour.
I could hear my heart beating on the monitors—not the dull thud you’re used to. It had a liquid whipping sound, like a stingray moving through the sea. When the test was over, they gave me a towel to wipe away the cold gel smeared all over my chest (which reminded me of a rushed sexual encounter) and showed me my heart on the monitors, pointing out all four chambers.
“Oh, look at that,” I said, seeing this muscle that’s been keeping me alive for seventeen-and-a-half years. And I wondered, then and there, if I would ever see it again. Hopefully not, I guess. So I spent a second or two watching it do its thing and feeling grateful for all its work on my behalf.
I won’t know if there’s a real problem with my heart for another week, when I see our family cardiologist and he interprets the echo results. But that’s cool because now the world has this romantic gloss to it. I mean I might die young.
I might die young. My heart, you see.
I’ve been practicing that line in my head.
We were supposed to go to a fancy-schmancy resort in Maui but now we’re not because of my burned-up aunt. And that’s okay. I mean about Maui, not my aunt. Although I swim, I’m not as athletic as the rest of my family. Sometimes that can get pretty annoying on family vacations what with the surfing and the tennis and the hiking and shit.
In Cabo last year, we went horseback riding along a beach. The rest of my family galloped off like they were in Red Dead Redemption, but my horse just lumbered along, sticking to the edges, eating every weed in sight. I finally gave him a sharp little kick and was like, C’mon, buddy, let’s move! The horse stopped munching and slowly turned his head to look back at me with this expression like: Bitch, please.
I wound up stumbling back to the hotel hours later, covered with dust and grit, to find the rest of my family glistening and supine, tanning by the pool, lazily swirling straws through bright-yellow drinks with little pink umbrellas. “Oh, Aidan, honey, did we lose you?” said my mom, sitting up a tad and only slightly lowering her sunglasses from her novel—the second Fifty Shades of Grey book.
The bronze-skinned pool boy gave me a sympathetic smile. I found him later stacking chairs, and felt vindicated when we hooked up in a blue-and-white-striped changing cabana while my family ate shrimp tacos without me (I was still pissed) at the only passable restaurant at the resort—Pasión Del Amanecer.
The pool boy’s name was Santiago. I remember that while he kissed me, I gazed through the cabana flap into the dark pool. The water reflected squiggles of light from all the hotel windows above. Between kisses, I mouthed his name because I liked it.
Jackson taps my knee, exposing that impressive bicep of his. The jagged edge of his red lightning-bolt tattoo peeks out from under his cobalt-blue, short-sleeved button-down.
“Should we get more hot water?” he’s asking me, gesturing at one of the waiters framed by the tall windows. The view is amazing: Central Park splitting the beige glittering buildings of New York City like a vegetal invasion climbing out of the planet’s core. Tatiana, Jackson’s girlfriend, is nodding, texting, reaching for a mini pastry on a tier of plates. The sandwiches are gone already. “Yes, please,” she says.
Jackson and Tatiana are the perfect couple: both of them black, gorgeous, super-smart, athletic, total Renaissance types. Jackson got into MIT, where he will probably stay for a year and create the next Facebook. Tatiana is already at Harvard. Pre-law. They met on a secret Tinder-like app that only accepts people who are a certain level of attractiveness and intelligence. I’m not kidding. Digital eugenics. It’s happening.
I look practically homely next to them. At least three people (that I know of) already walked up to Jackson today, revealed themselves as modeling scouts, and dropped business cards in his lap. I get why. Jackson is tall, toned, has an amazing smile and perfect bone structure. I call him “Rational Erik Killmonger.” He calls me “the flaxen-haired ghost of a J.Crew heir who died choking on an almond croissant.”
He has no interest in modeling. But he smiles at anyone who asks.
Sometimes I think my feelings for Jackson might go deeper, but I don’t want to complicate our friendship, so I never let my mind fully go there.
I gaze down at the cars racing around Columbus Circle. Being so high up makes the world seem quiet. I snap a few photos. I use Instagram, but not as much as everyone else does. I prefer to upload photos to my Tumblr. It makes me feel like a serious photographer. I number and title every photo.
I look at Jackson. “Is Leo coming?”
“Leo is flaking,” says Jackson. “Surprise, surprise.”
Leo is our other friend. Half Asian. Hipster. Coder. Puppyish. Flakes a lot. Goes to Comic-Con. Total stud anyway. Loves Minecraft, Fortnite, and Tarantino (but nothing after Inglourious Basterds). Heading to Brown next year. Full scholarship. Will probably create the next Snapchat or go into finance.
Yes, all my friends are intelligent and attractive. It’s just nice in a world of dust, blood, and fire to always have something lovely to look at. And I like being intellectually challenged.
In the fall I’ll be attending a small liberal arts college in New England. I don’t like telling people which one because then I get put in a box and people think they know me. Not that it matters. I’m sure everyone there will be named Aidan, too. Liam or Aidan. A sea of Liams and Aidans wearing Sperry Top-Siders and cardigans with catalogue colors like “heather” or “toast.”
That’s my big fear, I guess—that I’m a clone; that I’ll never be different; that my whole future is just mapped out for me and I essentially have no free will at all.
I grew up in a Rhode Island suburb where church bells chime at the top of the hour and everyone drives a Volvo SUV. People become lawyers and doctors like it’s written out in their DNA. My dad is a pediatrician on his way to retirement and my mom is a periodontist. So freakin’ normcore, I know.
I guess that’s why, when I finally left my hometown, I made sure I was not going to be friends with other boring, belching white dudes who watch ESPN obsessively and think the Chainsmokers are a really deep band. I pretty much hated my (highly rated) public school. There were definitely specific factors behind my wanting to get the hell out of there. I mentioned my unhappiness at school—painting it more as a general malaise—only once to my parents, in passing, while we were in a department store. I mused out loud about maybe going away to a boarding school. And then boom, off I went—shipped to Witloff at sixteen. TO BECOME A MAN.
“So this dude Drew,” Jackson is telling me.
I run my fingertip around the rim of the teacup. “Drew.”
Right: our sudden-death conversation. Jackson is telling this story because of my heart and my aunt. In the theme of: bad random shit can just happen.
“My cousin Alex goes to Amherst with this dude named Drew,” he says. “And Drew took a semester abroad. And he was skiing in the Swiss Alps during winter break last year. And he died. In an avalanche.”
“That’s terrible,” says Tatiana, clapping a hand to her throat.
“Amherst dude named Drew died in an avalanche while skiing in the Swiss Alps during break?” I say, leaning forward.
“Yep,” says Jackson.
“So basically he died the preppiest death of all time.”
“Basically.” Jackson covers his mouth with his hand.
“Don’t laugh at that.” Tatiana waves her finger at me, mock-scolding.
“Yeah, don’t,” says Jackson. “Could be you.”
Tatiana gives him a look. “Don’t tell him that.”
“What? His heart could explode!”
“I could go at any minute,” I say, flopping back, making the sound of a flatline.
“I wonder what started the avalanche,” I say. “Do you think Drew stopped skiing to make a really loud phone order to Lacoste or something?”
“His questions about Slim Fit versus Regular echoed too loud and then whoosh,” says Jackson.
“This is not funny!” Tatiana protests.
Jackson calls her Tats. And I call him Jacks. And she’s right. Sometimes we can be assholes.
“His family,” she says, looking stricken. “Can you imagine?” She looks around, trying to get the waiter’s attention. “The service here could be a lot better.”
“Yes,” says Jacks, rolling his eyes, “we know. Tea service is better in Singapore.”
Tatiana gives me a look, like Can you believe this is who I’m dating? I take her hand in mine to commiserate. I like Tats. She grew up in Singapore. Something with her dad’s corporate job, I don’t know. But she loved it there. Misses it. Says it was beautiful and perfect. Everything always sucks because we’re not in Singapore.
She does go on about that a lot.
I never mention the fact that you could go to prison for being gay there.
I surreptitiously check my phone, but there are no new calls or texts. I even more surreptitiously check a certain hookup app under the table and find out pretty quickly this hotel is Cruise Central. I look around but see no immediate possibilities. There’s some sort of bridal shower happening in one corner of the lounge. A gaggle of tourists with shopping bags from the Time Warner Center hold court at the low Chinese table in the center of the room. An elegantly dressed older lady wearing an eye patch walks by clutching an orange Hermès bag. I snap her photo. I always snap a burst, so I can meticulously choose the best shots later. “Lady with Hermès” is the working title of that one.
They finally refill our hot water and do it with a smile. Personally, I think the service is fine. They’re just busy. The entire lounge stops and stares as Jackson gets up to stretch. Literally, there’s a hush. His arms go over his head in one smooth motion like a dancer, and he turns left then right, his shirt lifting just a bit so you can see the thin band of white underwear poking out from his skinny jeans.
Tatiana seems oblivious to this little display. But I know Jackson. This is the kind of shit peacocks do. He likes to be noticed. He knows the power of everything about him that works. And perfect as the two of them may be, or close to it anyway, I know for a fact that Jackson has a wandering eye.
Jackson lives in northern New Jersey. Like mine, his family isn’t super rich or anything. But he’s staying the night with Tats (whose family is, and has an apartment in TriBeCa) because he has a ton of interviews for high-octane summer internships—Vogue, The New Yorker, Vice, various tech start-ups and consulting firms, the freakin’ UN.
I’m telling you, man, you get singed if you stand too close to his flames.
My parents put me up for the night at the Mandarin because it’s popular with a lot of kids from Witloff stopping through New York. The echo test is done now, so I have most of tomorrow to kill (“go to the Neue Galerie, honey, see the Klimts”) before we all have dinner somewhere downtown at five p.m. sharp, like the rock stars we are.
“What are your plans?” Tats is asking me.
“Don’t look so scared,” she says. “Not your life. Just for the rest of the day.”
“Yeah. We have to bounce,” says Jackson as he pats down his jeans, which is what he always does before he bounces. It happens very suddenly. You think you’re hanging out, you think it will last somewhat longer, but then there’s the jean pat-down, and he’s gone—off to the next great adventure.
“We’re having an early dinner with my parents,” says Tats. “And tomorrow morning he’s interviewing with Deutsche Bank.”
“Nice,” I say, staring into my lap. I haven’t been on top of this whole summer-internship thing as much as everyone else has, apparently. Personally, I think they’re bullshit. But maybe they aren’t. One of my uncles is a survivalist hunter-type who lives in Maine. But my other uncle is a Hollywood script doctor, and there were some vague plans for me to go out to LA for a few weeks, be a pseudo research assistant for him, and “meet people.” The movie business sort of interests me (although so does a lot of stuff), my uncle is gay, too, and for five seconds I thought maybe I could be the next Dustin Lance Black. That’s as far as I got with my summer. Now I wonder if that’s lame. “I’ll probably just take a nap,” I say, softly.
“We were up pretty late,” says Jackson.
“He made me watch a movie,” I tell Tats. “Forced it on me, really.”
Maybe I’m the only one in the world who finds Netflix stressful. Granted, I find fairly mundane things to be stressful, but how is it fun to spend hours cycling and arguing through their limited selection of mostly second-tier Elijah Wood projects and then be unable to pick something decent? The good stuff you’ve already seen. So what happens is—I mean what happened last night is—you just give up in the end and wind up streaming a Dutch lesbian movie called Loving Klara. And then it’s ninety-four minutes of two Dutch ladies with strange haircuts running down a rocky beach while one of them keeps shouting: “Klara! Wait! No! Klara!”
That was the whole goddamn movie.
“We were up past three,” says Jackson. He explains the plot to Tats. “It kind of sucked. And it was very foreign. But I wanted to see what happened in the end.”
“And what happened?” she asks.
“Klara jumps off a cliff,” I say.
“Why?” Tatiana’s hands hover over her cheeks; she looks so stricken.
“Because she’s Klara. And that’s what Dutch lesbians named Klara do, I guess,” I say.
Jackson signals for the check.
“Poor Klara,” says Tatiana, shaking her head, looking even more stricken. She’s good at looking stricken.
We pay the ginormous bill. Or Tats does, anyway, saying the tea is on her. Jackson gives me a bro hug—slingshot into the body, sharp slap on the shoulder, and then a quick pivot off. Tats gives me a hug and air kisses me on both cheeks because she’s way cool and that’s what they do in Singapore.
“I’m so glad we got to see you,” says Tats.
“Yeah, well, thanks for coming all the way up here,” I say, trying to quell an unexpected surge of anxiety that I’m about to be alone in a hotel in New York City.
Jackson whispers in my ear. “I might go out later. Friend of my cousin is hosting a warehouse party. Bushwick. Want to come with?”
“Wait. What about Tats?”
“What about her? She falls asleep early.”
“Don’t be worried about that test. I’m sure your heart is fine.”
“I’m not that worried.”
“If I don’t see you, have fun with your folks tomorrow.”
“And sorry about your aunt.”
“She’ll be okay.”
“I hope my story didn’t freak you out.”
“Drew. The avalanche.”
“I don’t really like skiing, so…”
“Shit does happen.” He squeezes my shoulder. “But not to you.”
I smile. “Be good.”
“No. You be good.” He sticks a gold toothpick in his mouth. Only he could pull that shit off. He points at me. “And you know what I mean.”
I do know what he means. But I probably won’t behave.
“Later, gator,” says Jacks.
Then they bounce. Like beach balls.
I take the elevator to my room, where I still haven’t unpacked. I throw myself on the bed, wanting to do something productive. So I read a little of this book I like called The Age of Wonder. It’s about all these cool scientific discoveries made in the late eighteenth century leading into the Romantic period.
I think history is pretty cool. All those different time periods, each characterized by a different tone, different values, and different ways of thinking. Maybe the Romantic period could get exhausting with everyone swooning and being emotional, but I bet the Renaissance was a pretty badass time to be on this planet—maybe a little cliquey, though, if you weren’t sculpting enough.
Now, the Age of Enlightenment I’m not sure about. You couldn’t complain at all. People would be like: Wait, you didn’t love the second season of Westworld? It’s amazing! And you’d be like, eh, too many minor characters, and everyone would go on about you needing to be more enlightened about the character arcs in Westworld. You’d probably have to pretend you thought the Chainsmokers were prophets or something.
But the freakin’ Dark Ages? People gave zero fucks. And it lasted forever! The Roman Empire was in ruins; you could die in the Crusades, catch the Black Death, get burned alive if you pissed off the wrong guy. And all those medieval torture devices? Holy shit. You probably had no idea if you would survive any given week. And people would be like: What? Your dad is giving you shit about using the car? This is the Dark Ages, dude. I just beheaded my whole family with an ax because I felt like it.
You could get away with anything.
War in Heaven
I fall asleep, but only for a minute or so. I turn on the TV and take in some of their “digital content on demand.” I love how hotels think phones don’t exist. Sure, Mandarin Oriental, I’ll pay thirty bucks to watch the latest Jason Statham movie.
I’ve always thought hotels are romantic and disorienting, but vacations in general are weird. Being lost in time as the days tick off in a mad rush to return you home. The weeklong sunburns. Those eerie, empty hours before dinner. The soapy-sweet smell of hotel rooms. The muted sound of television voices through the walls. People whispering as they sift down the carpeted halls. Deep, strange dreaming in stiff alien bedding. And those heavy curtains you’re reluctant to close.
I take out my phone and open DirtyPaws, the gay hookup app I was checking earlier under our table during tea. But I had a blank profile because I had just re-downloaded it on the train in. Nothing good can come from this, but I cobble together a profile (“on break” says my headline), forgo a screen name, throw a few photos on, and get seven hits right away.
Two messages from faceless profiles: “Cute,” they both say. I delete these.
One headless torso (screen name: TDawgPA) on PrEP just gives me a room number. Delete.
One dude in his late twenties (screen name: YoungLawyer) has a great smile, but he’s into unprotected sex (“bb only”), offers a negative HIV result from over a year ago (“phew!”), and just gives me a Thumbs Up emoticon. This shithead gets blocked.
One European-looking gentleman (screen name: JetLag) who could be a Bond villain, and whose profile photo is of him in a white tux raising a glass of champagne (celebrating his latest kill?), offers me the honor of performing oral sex on him.
They keep coming: little buzzing vibrations on my phone from the lonely, horny denizens of Columbus Circle. I scan through my options. Everyone is approximately 205 feet away. So many dudes doing that thing where they hold the phone slightly below the jaw in a full-length mirror, looking aloof, wearing only briefs.
My thumb freezes on a face I recognize, and I actually gasp a little.
Well, well, well. Darren freakin’ Cohen: Witloff track star. Blond, blue-eyed all-American Hollister-type headed to Dartmouth next year. Dating Ashley Henderson, a cheerleader on her way to Wesleyan, who looks like Alicia Vikander. The app says he’s 56 feet away. I imagine him lying in bed right over my room, concurrently checking out my profile with a nervously excited expression on his face.
His screen name is JockNxtDoor. I crack up at that. He doesn’t say much on his profile; just lists his height and weight, which seems accurate. I lay the phone face down on my chest and consider this.
Now I regret putting my face on my profile. I should have just put a photo of my chest like everyone else. I’m not sure what to do now. Darren is a total rock star at school. We haven’t crossed paths much. He’s someone I might have had a crush on, but he never seemed accessible enough. And I assumed he was straight. But, oh snap, I guess Ashley Henderson did, too. I pick up my phone and just stare at his face. The app says he’s still online. I purse my lips.
Bond Villain is now offering me money. BLOCK.
Then Darren freakin’ Cohen freakin’ messages me!
Okay, Jamison, we’ve both seen each other.
ME (playing it all cool): What do you want to do, man?
DARREN: What is there to do, Jamison. Let’s hang.
ME: You’re not really my type.
Why did I just say that? I dance my fingertips nervously across my forehead.
Darren just responds with his room number, as if he knows he’s everyone’s type and STFU. This simultaneously annoys me and really turns me on. Then Darren sends me more pics. My eyes go wide. Track does amazing things for your arms, abs, and legs, apparently. He’s genetically just a winner in all other categories.
It takes me a moment to realize what these secondary pictures mean.
He’s saying: we’re on.
I swim, I remind myself. I’m not not in his league.
I hop off the bed. I flick the lights on in the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. I look dazed. I squirt out some hair gel and swipe it through my hair, but that just makes everything worse. Boy-band spiky. Ugh. I wash my face, wondering about the world of Witloff, the shells we all hide in, and how once we exit those gates, where we all have these set roles, we emerge as different people. Am I nothing more than a horned-up skeeze who cruises hook-up apps?
Then I glance at Darren’s abs again.
Who. The. Fuck. Cares.
I rummage through my luggage. I try on three different T-shirts and two different pairs of jeans before I decide to go more casual and put on some khaki shorts and a chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
It’s the longest elevator ride of my life and it’s only ten floors up. I nearly strangle this lady who takes forever with her nine suitcases. Is she staying here for a year?
Darren has left his door unlocked. “Just come in,” he calls.
I walk inside. He’s on a higher floor, so his view is impressive, way better than mine. He’s sitting on the edge of his bed, facing away from me, as if almost shy, framed by the lush park below. The sun is just beginning to set, rays of crimson and gold streaking through the mass of trees.
Now I feel like a total dork for worrying about what to wear. He’s wearing only one of those fluffy white robes they leave in the bathroom. I raise an eyebrow, but he’s used to parading around locker rooms.
So am I, I have to remind myself. Although I don’t parade. It’s more like a rushed hustle.
A breeze kicks up outside, and in the distance, over the tree tops, a funnel of white blossoms spirals around in a fury.
Darren follows my gaze out the window. “That keeps happening. I keep thinking they’re feathers. That it’s a war in heaven. And all the angels are fighting.”
There are several things I might have expected from Darren as a conversation starter. This was not one of them.
“Milton,” he says. “Paradise Lost. Have you read it?”
“Uh, no, have you?”
“No. But I want to. I hear good things.” He turns to me. “Come in. Close the door.”
Right. I walk inside. His TV is on mute. Bloomberg News. He stands up. He’s holding a glass. Ice clinks. “Want a drink?”
“I’m good,” I say.
“I don’t want to drink alone, man.”
Praise for Swipe Right for Murder:
*"What could have been just a clever reconstruction of classic mystery conventions is elevated by wry humor and genuine emotional intensity. As a thriller, it's twisted and engaging; as a character study, it has lingering, affecting aftershocks."—Booklist *starred review*
"An addicting read...Don't swipe left on this one."—Kirkus Reviews
"In this fast-paced thriller, Milman deftly portrays a modern teen in an unwinnable situation. Aidan is genre savvy, resourceful, and resilient even as he wrestles with self-doubt and past trauma."—Publishers Weekly
"With a narrative voice as witty as his situation is dire, Aidan is a remarkably sympathetic though unlikely action hero."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Brilliant, darkly funny and heart-wrenching. I couldn't put it down."—April Henry, NYT bestselling author of Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared
"Equal parts hilarious and heart racing, Swipe Right for Murder crackles with enough energy to rival its New York City backdrop."—Kara Thomas, author of The Cheerleaders and The Darkest Corners
"A spellbinding North by Northwest for the digital age...it's like Hitchcock binged every season of Black Mirror and wrote a book about it. Wait, why aren't you reading yet?"—Lindsay Champion, author of Someday, Somewhere
"Two parts rocket fuel, one part moral quandaries, one part laugh-until-your-teeth-ache humor, Swipe Right for Murder is a delicious thrill-ride that will keep you riveted to the end."—Kit Frick, author of See All the Stars and All Eyes On Us
"I read it in one sitting because I couldn't tear myself away. A funny, sexy knockout of a book, and a new pinnacle for page-turning gay YA for me.I'm obsessed."—Cale Dietrich, author of The Love Interest
"Derek Milman combines explosively propulsive storytelling and a razor-sharp wit in this sexy, inventive thriller. A truly exciting read."—Maxine Kaplan, author of The Accidental Bad Girl
- On Sale
- May 11, 2021
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- jimmy patterson