Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on The Dying Game.
Tunneling us into 2037 and to a never-ending Cold War, Advic explores how--through no fault of our own--we can fall down a rabbit hole of suspicion and paranoia. Anna Francis has been lauded
for her fantastic efforts at Kyzyl Kun, an aid station situated on the border of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. An exhausted Anna is now back in the Protectorate of Sweden, grateful for the opportunity
to spend time helping refugees. She’s been called to a meeting with a man called The Chairman to talk about the RAN project, a field exercise that evaluates people under extreme conditions by using a faked murder as a stress test.
Because Anna fits seamlessly into any situation asked of her, The Chairman is anxious to use her as a tool in this “high-pressure situation” in which she will “evaluate and assess" how the candidates handle her dramatic demise. Anna can’t return to the controversy that surrounded her last days at Kyzyl Kum. She’s also currently estranged from Nour, her
70-year-old grandmother who looks after Anna’s young daughter, Siri, “a little girl who sometimes doesn’t even know whether she has a mom.” As Anna packs her bags to travel to Isola, an isolated island situated at the very edge of Sweden’s outer archipelago, she suddenly realizes how much she’s lost over the past few years, how estranged she is from her own family.
Anna wonders whether she’ll ever reconnect with Henry Fall, an ambitious young man with whom she recently had an affair. The situation is complicated when Henry actually arrives on the Island
as one of the group that includes a television host, a business executive, a marathon-running HR star, and an elderly man who calls himself The Colonel. As Ana ensconces herself in the house’s narrow hallways and furtively looks through peepholes, she feels overwhelmed by the mission, by the Island, by her faked death, and by this strange gathering of people. There must be no traces that could put the classified nature of the operation at risk.
As expected, there are multiple layers and threads as Advic explores the concepts of cowardice and bravery, hope and acceptance. Events don’t go exactly as planned. As Anna attempts to fulfill her mission, she discovers the truth about the intentions of The Chairman and Henry, who seems to invisibly take command from the moment he arrives. When Anna discovers Katya
(the girl who gave her the drugs) lying in a pool of blood, she confronts the truth behind the mission and the role she has played in this intricate conspiracy.
There’s a glimmer of possibility under all the layers of this complicated bureaucracy.
The book is an obvious retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None with its thickening plot, isolated setting, and series of violent twists
as one by one, each character appears to be killed off. Although the dystopian nature of the novel adds a frisson of originality, the story would have had more impact if Advic had just ditched the futuristic elements. Limiting the action to a crooked, Orwellian society
governed by a group of shady government autocrats sometimes muddles the novel’s
message. Advic doesn’t give us a fully-fledged picture of this world, apart from dropping a few hints--the Union of Friendship, the second Cold War in the early 2000s, and climate change and emissions
having accelerated Anna’s increasingly dark moods.
The novel works best in Anna’s search for answers in the cold, surreal madness,
though this thread is too often scrambled and confusing. There are too many subplots
concerning Anna’s past and too much happening in the present, with no real closure or resolution. Although I never really embraced Avdic’s altered future, I thought
the author did a good job of conveying Anna and Henry, their lives thrown into chaos by The Chairman, who proves to be a truly Machiavellian master manipulator.