Review: “The Dark Game,” Jonathan Janz

Pros: Love the concept; adored the ending!
Cons: Couldn’t keep track of the characters!
Rating: 4 out of 5

In Jonathan Janz’s The Dark Game (Fiction Without Frontiers), ten writers have been invited to a competition at a famous, and reclusive, writer’s old mansion. At stake? Three million dollars and a big-time publishing contract. The author ran a similar competition 50 years earlier and the woman who won became hugely famous. Of the other contestants, no one ever heard a thing. Each of the writers invited to the retreat is at a different place in their careers. Some have barely started; one had a smashing debut only to fall flat on her face in the sequels. But what all ten have in common is their fierce desire to succeed–and their dark, sinful histories. When one of the writers sees a character from his new book show up in reality, the writers start to get an inkling that something is wrong. Before long writers start to disappear–apparently leaving the retreat in defeated silence, leaving their possessions behind.

I ran into a couple of things that left me with questions, but I’m happy to be able to say that my questions were answered by the end of the book. I was quite satisfied with how things turned out. And the ending–oh yes. All I’ll say is that it left me chortling in glee.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time differentiating between so many contestants. Maybe if they had been a little deeper as characters it would have worked, but despite their past sins, they didn’t feel as distinctive as I think they should have. I kept confusing Evan and Will in particular. Some of the nastier writers are a little unrelentingly nasty–mainly Anna and Bryan. Sherilyn is an exception–she just exudes personality. As the number of writers dwindle it becomes easier of course, and it’s interesting to see what happens when they start to realize something just isn’t right in the old mansion. I did find that some of the characters’ deaths were too quick and sudden–it felt like they should have been played for even a little more drama.

This book does indulge in the oft-used horror trope where the main character (nominally Lucy, although we get first-person accounts from a variety of characters) is a writer, and the story takes place in a dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere. However, unlike the more cliché examples of this trope, there’s a very good reason why these characters are authors. I’ll just say it’s absolutely integral to the entire story, and I loved that.

All in all this is a really fun read. I think most horror enthusiasts would enjoy it.

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