You go to lunch at your favourite, exclusive, Hollywood restaurant. You look around at the people you are dining next to. Every one of them is part of the Hollywood elite or at least connected to the industry in some way. Directors, actors, models – all of you going about your business, barely cognisant of those around you. Until that is, a masked gunman wearing a suicide vest bursts into the restaurant and takes you all hostage. Then you start to notice the others around you, begin to wonder if these are the last people you will see before you die.
For a killer, Alfie’s is the perfect target. A converted warehouse, no windows to allow a gunman to take you out. And even if they could, killing you would kill your hostages, your life, your heartbeat, the only thing keeping them all alive. At least for as long as you want them to be…
There is no clear motive for the attack, and with an apparently crazed gunman who seems to want to make his siege as public as possible, the police are struggling to find a way to resolve the situation. They have a reluctant man on the inside, but it may not be enough. The gunman has no qualms about killing at will, but is willing to let some of the hostages go, those who merely work for the restaurant and those who can afford to buy their freedom. And yet money doesn’t seem to be his motive. For those who are left behind, is there anyone who anyone talk him down and save their lives?
Where to begin? ‘The Killing game’ is a fast paced, heart-stopping novel; a real thrill ride in which you will find yourself second guessing everyone and everything. The story takes place over just a few short hours and yet there is so much packed into it, that as a reader you are barely given a chance to breathe.
Carol does an excellent job in grabbing your attention and holding onto it in a vice like grip; leaving you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what the gunman will do next. There is no rhyme or reason to his actions, or so it seems, and even when he agrees to let hostages go, you are waiting for the punchline; waiting to see what act of retribution he will take on those who are left. From the minute he claims his first victim, for no reason other than that he can, you can feel the tension building, knowing that this will be an intriguing, all consuming, nail biting story. And you know what? It doesn’t disappoint for one moment.
Told from a third person perspective, the omniscient narrator follows several key character points of view; that of celebrity PR ‘fixer’ JJ; actor Alex King, temporarily saved from the gunman by virtue of needing a bathroom break; journalist, Rob Taylor, and his boss, Seth Allen. Each brings a different perspective to the story, adding a new dimension. Rob and Seth are both hungry for the story, smelling promotion, or in Seth’s case, deferring an enforced ‘retirement’. JJ, as a key hostage, desperate to get free, but afraid to make herself known to their captor, informs a lot of the main action. She watches, she judges, she calculates. As someone who is trained to gauge the reactions of others, she knows there is something more to the man than simple terrorism and it is through her eyes, her understanding of human behaviour, that we get most of our own understanding. Alex… Well he is a scared young man, hiding out in the toilets, trying hard to remain calm and help the police while all the time battling his own demons.
The plot is tight and twisting. The murders are brutal, the killer unflinching and unfeeling in his attack. As more becomes clear about the killer, you still don’t truly understand his motives until the end. Just when you think you know, you realise that you don’t. While there are subtle clues throughout, and yes, some of the diners are key, the who and why are so well hidden that you will not guess until the very end.
This was a strange book to read, and by that I mean that apart from maybe a couple of the hostages, it was hard to feel too sorry for all of the ‘victims’. That sounds awful, but we are talking about people who in some cases had extraordinary egos, who were ‘Lear jet rich’ and could afford to just drop a few million dollars to buy their freedom while leaving others to face almost certain death. I know that fear will make people to crazy things, but walking away and leaving people to die, putting a value on life, seems a harsh, unfeeling thing to do. And that makes the setting, and the cast of characters, perfect for the story Carol is telling here. You don’t resent them their money per se, and death in any social group is shocking, but when the over privileged, super rich are the victims, it changes the dynamic a lot. Do you sympathise or do their actions leave a bad taste in your mouth? If you had the money, what would you do? Stay, and risk your life, or gamble and try to buy your freedom?
Anyway you cook it, and no matter what your feelings are about the victims – and at the end of the day, they are all genuinely victims here – this is a high octane story. The unpredictability of the perpetrator keeps the reader on their toes, and the action, from the siege, to the street, to the newsroom, is unrelenting. A brilliantly compelling read.
A nail-biting 5 stars from me.
My thanks to NetGalley and publishers Bookouture for the advance copy in exchange for my review.
‘The Killing Game’ by J.S. Carol is released on 13th October and is available to order here: