Despite caricaturing (some) gun owners, Nick Mamatas' conspiracy-fueled science fiction novel The Second Shooter avoids moralizing in favor of dark humor. His protagonist is Mike Karras, a cynical anarcho-leftist writer working on a book about mass shooting survivors who claim to have seen second gunmen where official reports say there were none. Karras lives for the dopamine hit of checking his notifications, but never likes what his phone shows him. His arch-nemesis is not a shadowy government agency, but the conspiracy theory–obsessed host of an internet radio show and his devoted fans.
As he travels from the site of an active domestic terror attack in the Midwest to the aftermath of a church shooting in the Bay Area, Karras finds himself becoming a character in the eerie string of violent acts he sets out to chronicle, unable to maintain his privacy or his belief that the people he interviews are mistaken about what they saw.
Chewy hypotheticals abound: If every mass shooting is a psy-op carried out by crisis actors, does that mean we live in a world with no actual mass shootings? If your cellphone was tapped, would you know how to find the nearest pay phone? What if there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll in 1963?
The third-act twist will feel like either a cop-out or a treat, depending on whether your preferences lean toward Jack Reacher or Doctor Who.
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