Written by Hilary Bonner — Former chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, ex-Fleet Street journalist Hilary Bonner has a string of fiction and non-fiction books to her name. The Cruellest Game is her 10th novel.
Marian Anderton is a woman who has everything, a gorgeous home in the Devon countryside, a devoted, handsome husband and a clever, caring son. But that perfect world comes tumbling around her ears when she returns home to find 15-year-old Robbie hanging from a beam in his bedroom. It appears that her lovely boy, the apple of her eye, has committed suicide. But why? He was a talented sportsman and excellent scholar and had everything to live for.
Husband Robert works on the oil rigs and is a long way away, so Marian struggles to cope alone with the loss of her only child until Robert can be with her. She is sure Robbie’s death wasn’t suicide, but can she get the police to take her seriously? Then Robert returns, and Marian turns to him for much-needed support. But Robert is revealed to be a man of many secrets, and as they are revealed, layer by layer, like an onion skin, Marian no longer knows who to trust or what to believe. For her, the nightmare is only just beginning…
The story is told in the first person – from Marian’s perspective – and as it unfolds, it certainly takes you on a hazardous and circuitous route. There are plot twists and turns aplenty, and by the end of the book you’ll probably feel as if you’ve been through an emotional wringer. However, I had a couple of issues with this book. Firstly, I never really felt connected with Marian, the lead character who holds the whole story together. I felt she came across as rather self-obsessed, and a touch cold. The author gives her a great deal to contend with, but somehow I never really committed to Marian’s journey or sympathised with her plight.
Secondly, I found the American spellings – ‘realize’ and ‘recognize’ are examples – extremely annoying in a book written by a British author, set in the UK and with a decidedly British title. The author is also very fond of the word ‘nonetheless’, uses it far too frequently, and consistently spells it, wrongly, as three words. I know these will seem small complaints to some, but for me it broke up the flow of the narrative.
I was intrigued by the title of this book, and did a bit of googling in an attempt to explain it. The quote that comes closest is probably this one: “Honesty is the cruelest game of all, because not only can you hurt someone – and hurt them to the bone – you can feel self-righteous about it at the same time.” It is attributed to late US folk singer Dave Van Ronk. It is apt, because honesty is certainly in short supply throughout the novel – you really need to take everything with a pinch of salt.
The Cruellest Game has a clever plot and a neat final twist but ultimately this psychological thriller just didn’t quite thrill me enough. It’s out on 12 September.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars