KILLING STRANGERS

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In an Atlanta auditorium, employees celebrate software company Happ!’s 10-year anniversary. A masked gunman suddenly opens fire, seemingly targeting random people. Then flashbacks, starting one year before and leading up to the shooting, reveal a trio of men. Alim Mubarak, an Iraqi-born American who works at Happ!’s Charlotte, North Carolina, office, is no stranger to conflict. He endures racists who declare that all Muslims are terrorists. Alim also implores his fellow Muslims to not seek revenge for a potential hate crime—a fire at a local mosque. Over in Atlanta, Dave Pruitt, a highly intelligent, 20-something man who lives with his parents, has Asperger’s. He also collects guns, an obsession that understandably concerns his father. Investment manager Mark McCarthy, like Dave, frequents shooting ranges, although Mark does it to relieve stress. But trouble with his love life and his struggling startup may be too much to handle. These men face hardships and tragedies that drive at least one of them to pick up a loaded weapon and commit mass murder. Gopal’s story zeroes in on its remarkable characters without immediately revealing the gunman. Though the novel intermittently returns to the shooting, it lingers on people’s reactions (including members of the public outside the auditorium) rather than the ongoing violence. The author meticulously and ably develops each of the three men. Alim and Dave are especially sympathetic. Bigots and bullies have singled them out for years, and even Alim’s 8-year-old son can’t escape discrimination. The story likewise tramples stereotypes, as Alim, who tirelessly advocates for peace, is not an extremist, and Dave isn’t incapable of emotions. Gopal’s concise prose and narrative perspectives that shift between the main characters and the escalating scene of the shooting establish a swift pace throughout.

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