Today I’m sharing my review of the absolutely brilliant The Murder Game by Rachel Abbott. This is the second novel to feature Stephanie King, but don’t worry if, like me, you’re new to the series – The Murder Game works brilliantly as a standalone.
A year ago today, we all gathered for Lucas’s wedding at his glorious Cornish home overlooking the sea.
But no one was married that day.
Now Lucas has invited us back to celebrate the anniversary. But the anniversary of what? The wedding that never happened, or the tragedy that occurred just hours before the ceremony was due to begin?
He’s told us that tonight he has planned a game. We have our costumes, we have our parts, and everyone must play. The game, he tells us, is about to begin.
What does Lucas want from us? What are we not being told? And what’s going to happen when this terrible game is over?
It begins with a small group of friends reuniting to celebrate the wedding of Lucas and Nina at Polskirrin – Lucas’s house on the Cornish coast. There’s Matt and his wife, Jemma, Andrew and his fiancé, Chandra, and the twins, Nick and Isobel. Lucas’s sister, Alex, is also present. As you might expect from such a gathering, the atmosphere at Polskirrin is one of an extended party – there’s as much food and alcohol as anyone could wish for, and nothing for anyone to worry about. Despite this, there’s something a little off about some of the so-called friendships in the group. Jemma, Chandra, and Nina are new to the group, the others having known each other since they were teenagers, and Abbott tells the story predominantly from Jemma’s perspective, who – much like the reader – is an outsider looking in. This highlights the strange group dynamics and the way in which the friends still all look to Lucas for approval. It’s an intriguing set up and one that hints at the history of the group and questions waiting to be answered.
When tragedy strikes and puts a stop to the celebrations, the group return to their respective homes. They are surprised when, one year later, Lucas invites the same group of people back to Polskirrin. He’s determined to work out what happened that night, and insists that his guests play a murder mystery style game where they all have a character to play, all have certain information to share, and all have questions to be answered. It soon becomes clear that no one has been entirely honest about the events of that evening – where they were, who they were with, and what they know. Coercing his guests into playing his game, they reluctantly set about finding out what they can, despite their reservations.
Jemma’s task in the game is to understand the change in her husband, Matt. Happy until one year ago, their marriage now appears to be failing, and communication between them is minimal. Jemma doesn’t know the reason for the change, and while she is reluctant to play Lucas’s macabre game, she sees it as an opportunity – and perhaps her last chance – to find out the answers to the questions she has been afraid to ask. Unable to let things continue as they have been, she needs to know if their marriage can be salvaged. There are some characters in the novel that aren’t particularly likeable – I won’t name them as it’s far better to form your own conclusions while reading this – but I liked Jemma throughout the novel. She’s a sympathetic character, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for her.
I love the concept behind the novel. It’s an original and exciting idea, and it’s a format that allows for a steady drip feed of information, giving the reader the opportunity to work out whodunnit from what they’ve read. The plot is wonderfully complicated, and while I had my suspicions as to who the culprit was, it was down to luck as much as judgement. I was gripped as soon as I started reading, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened. I highly recommend it to fans of psychological thrillers.
The Murder Game will be published by Wildfire on 16 April. Many thanks to Rosie Margesson and the publisher for sending a copy ahead of publication.