HP (or Henrik Pettersson to those who don’t know him well) finds an expensive smartphone left behind on a train. To him it means money, an easy sell to make more cash to drink or smoke away. HP is a drifter, a man with a hangover, and a criminal record, not close to family but reliant on friends. The phone, though, has other ideas. It sends HP a message, asking him if he wants to play a game. Bored, he cannot resist. When he completes his first simple task HP’s mischievous streak is tickled, not least because he discovers that his mission has been filmed and broadcast by other players. He has stepped onto the first ladder of the game, run by a master who knows exactly who HP is. Having agreed to keep the game a secret, HP is soon caught up in a series of tasks of increasing risk, with growing repercussions. There comes a time, after one narrow escape too many, when HP realises that if this game has a player it might not be him.
Game is the first part of a trilogy (completed by Buzz and Bubble – also published this December and all now translated into English from its original Swedish) which has a hook that catches the reader instantly. HP’s spiral descent into the game and its rules along with his increasing curiosity into the purpose and identity of his fellow players and their master is told in a fast, immediate style interspersed with interjections, emails, text messages and reports. We’re put right into HP’s head, witness to his private thoughts as he gets off on the thrill of the game, his voyeurism and his confusion.
Alongside the story of HP is that of police detective and bodyguard Rebecca Normén, HP’s estranged sister who has issues of her own. The novel flickers between the two narratives, mixed in with flashbacks from their past, providing some context to the decisions that both make in their current lives. The relationship between the two, definitely fragile and sometimes desperate, is a keen theme of Game. Choices are made, consequences ensue. It’s when HP tries to take charge of his own destiny and master the game that the novel lets rip.
Game pulses along at a tremendous rate and the plot has twists, turns, shocks and blindsides by the dozen. It is complicated for me by the fact that I did not like the main character one little bit. HP does nothing to win over my sympathies from start to finish (with the possible exception of one thing) and as a result I had a lot of trouble caring about his dangerous game. I liked Rebecca much more and found her backstory fascinating although the plot does jump around so much there were times I was a little lost as to what was taking place in the present and what was in the past. The game itself is intriguing but I thought that HP was lifted out of it too early in the novel. Also, while the style is fast and furious, I did find it rather unengaging. However, it does reflect the personality of the main protagonist very well.
A short while ago I read and reviewed Christopher J. Yates’ Black Chalk, another novel that focuses upon a game of unknown meaning, and I think that Motte’s Game has suffered a little for me by being the second of two such novels that I’ve read. Nevertheless, Game is an extremely clever and unusual novel with the added bonus of having its two fellow novels in the trilogy published at the same time. With a book this intense (and tense), that can be no bad thing.