Reviewed by Ian Lipke
The premise of this book is simple: to save your loved one’s life, you have to play and win the game. Across the globe five strangers receive a horrifying message, texted from a number unfamiliar to them. The message makes clear that the person loved most is in danger. ‘To save them you must play the game. If you lose, your loved one will die.’
The book is written to be scary. Initially, each chapter introduces the players and gives the readers an insight into the protagonist’s family. These are often not the Mum-Dad-two-kids variety, but include the brokenness often found in real families today. Thus, the Game is played by representatives of today’s families but involves them in events as stark as they are horrible.
The pressure on the reader is intensely felt because the characters identify with the reader. Who was not shocked by the bloody end to Player Three (Sarah’s) family dog or the attack on a family member with a sledgehammer? We travel with one player inside a truck that was crossing the English Channel and live along with the mother who had lost her infant child to the leaders of the Gang.
The chapters are constructed to maintain suspense. Player One resolves to take control: “Whoever is responsible for this is going to pay…Maggie can always get a gun. She takes out her phone and, crouching in the cold, reads through the rules one more time” (35). Concerned that his mate is slacking at his job, Player Two (Brett) provides an excuse for his conduct and goes to sleep. “The next day is Monday. Craig doesn’t show up to work” (40).
And so is revealed the excuses one makes in the face of unaccustomed disaster, but also made known is the type of behaviour one comes to expect from the players. Brett opts for the easy, surface explanation, Maggie responds more positively. Similar situations hold for the other players.
Player Five is Linda, a woman who has had over thirty years’ experience in the police force and now works as a security guard. Tough as she is, her life is turned over with the apparent kidnapping of her daughter Alyssa. Each player’s story adds to the building tension until all five appear in a hut in Scotland. Their arrival is not without incident. It is now that some of the pressure is released, with not-very-good dialogue replacing the scary action that is a feature of the first parts of the book.
The story then proceeds to its denouement, the weakest part of the book. Stories that build events and feelings to screaming level need a climax equally upsetting. This book lacks that, and the author’s attempt to fit Player Six into the story at this late stage just doesn’t work. The explanation of what happens to the characters subsequent to the story left me floundering.
However, the first three-quarters of the book was enough for me to recommend this book to fellow readers.
By Scott Kershaw
$29.99; 400 pp