Dec 012013
 
Game by Anders de la MotteA review by Nalini Haynes

Henrik Petterson (HP to his friends) sees someone leave their mobile phone on a train seat. Instead of calling out so they pick it up, he steals it. The joke is on him because the phone asks him if he’d like to play a game; whoever sends the messages knows his name.

Figuratively speaking, HP chooses between the red and blue pills, goes down the rabbit hole and starts taking orders from an unknown Game Master. The accolades he receives online feed HP’s need for approval, inspiring him to strive for greater success. HP’s assignments start with vandalism but soon he’s assaulting the royal family.

Rebecca Normen, a bodyguard in the police department, needs control. Her guilty secret tears her up inside while she strives for perfection. Rebecca finds notes in her locker at work, alluding to someone knowing her secret.

HP’s and Rebecca’s stories are juxtaposed, entwined.

Game is similar to This is not a game by Walter Jon Williams in that it’s a ‘real-life’ role-playing game enmeshed with a conspiracy. Part Bourne, part Conspiracy Theory, Game is a thriller with twists and turns. The author uses misdirection including juxtaposing stories and replacing identifiers with pronouns in such a way as to conceal the identities of characters in various scenes.

Nearly half-way through Game, the first novel in a trilogy, exposition masquerading as dialogue gave a big reveal. At that point I paused, I looked at how much I’d read of Game and seriously thought about stopping there for two reasons. Firstly, the ‘big reveal’ was too easy and too early in the trilogy. Secondly, any conspiracy that big should have leaked into public consciousness: when too many people know a secret, it ceases being a secret. I read on because it was possible that this big reveal was, in itself, part of the game. Having finished the entire trilogy I’m still not sure if that big reveal was supposed to be ‘fact’ or ‘fiction’ within the narrative.

Rebecca and HP are contrasted throughout the story to appeal to different readers. If you’re a virtual subversive – for example, a GTA player – you’ll probably love HP. I found HP fascinating like a car accident: his actions and motivations were appalling but I found it hard to look away. I kept wanting to say ‘Don’t do that, think of the consequences!’ but that was, at least in part, the point. HP doesn’t think about consequences, he’s caught up in the moment.

Rebecca is responsible and careful, paying bills, picking up the pieces. As her story unfolds, Rebecca becomes a sympathetic character. It was disappointing how some key elements of Rebecca’s story-line were wrapped up; I felt the author cheated a little, detracting from Rebecca’s character.

In general the characters were well-written, consistent and plausible, so much so that I anticipated one of the key revelations in the climax.

Throughout the Game trilogy, bodyguard, police-work and IT technology is concrete, consistent and plausible. The author worked as a police officer and a director of security at a large IT company; this experience gives authenticity to the narrative.

Overall Game is a roller-coaster ride of a thriller, coupling present-day technology with the conspiracy trope. Pop culture references feature in Game but really kick in later in the trilogy. Although Game has flaws I raced through it and enjoyed it. At 386 pages, Game is a welcome break from door-stopper novels. Game could be read as a stand-alone as it has a satisfying ending although there is a substantial and justified story arc for the trilogy.

Four stars.

Below Anders de la Motte, the author, talks about his trilogy.

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