Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Dying Game.
The premise of The Dying Game is unique, a futuristic tale that takes place in 2037. The Soviet Union hasnít failed, and the protagonist--Anna Francis, a workaholic with a nine-year-old daughter--is offered an opportunity for a top-secret intelligence position with the totalitarian Union of Friendship. A dedicated and reliable worker, Francis is the perfect candidate in the project. She will be taken to
the tiny island of Isola, where seven people will compete over forty-eight hours. There Anna will stage her death and observe the others from a hiding place behind the walls. She is to monitor how the other candidates react to the possibility of a murderer in their midst, a closed-room mystery with an edge, the future unrecognizable, seemingly bare, efficient and bereft of warmth.
The stoic Anna seems perfect as a candidate, the only softness to her personality when she speaks of her daughter. But even that relationship is distant.
The girl stays with her grandmother, Nour, while Anna travels for work. The visits grow more and more frequent as Siri spends longer periods, effectively living with Nour full-time: ďI had been away, they had been home; they made up one anotherís everyday lives, while I was the exception.Ē Though Anna yearns for them, mother and daughter,
she leaves each time, more comfortable in solitude, or working. She buries this troubling emotion deep inside along with a secret, returning to the self-sufficient woman she appears. Like her environment, Anna Francis is bound to acceptable convention, her thoughts about others limited to small curiosities quickly dismissed.
The coldness of the prose, even in Annaís interactions with her mother and daughter, leaches the humanity from the characters.
The part of the world where the action takes place is a grim terrain, structured and without empathy. All the more difficult, then, when the assignment goes awry
as a storm batters the little house, the power lost, the game suddenly altered. It is at this point that The Dying Game receives a transfusion of energy, but it is hard work to get there. I was anticipating this authorís first novel, but with only the flashbacks to relieve the relentless prose, much was lost along the way, the lack of passion taking its toll on this reader. That I could not find my way into this novel-cum-mystery is a disappointment.