The Killing Game | J.S. Carol | 2016 (13 October) | Bookouture | 359p | Review copy | Buy the book
Alfies could well be the most exclusive restaurant in Hollywood, a table almost impossible to come by except for the most glamorous, wealthy and powerful figures in town. It has only a few tables, there are no windows, it is the perfect place for the famous to escape prying eyes and cameras. Except when they leave, of course. Cameras might be expected then – the result of a discreet tip off, perhaps. But while even an A-lister might have a bit of trouble getting a table when he or she wants it, Jody (JJ) Johnson has a guaranteed table every week. JJ is the owner of one of the most successful PR companies in LA, she fixes things for the powerful and the famous. And one day she fixed something for Alfies’ owner Tony. The guaranteed table was more than worth the effort.
But on this one particular lunchtime – while JJ negotiates a business lunch, while an up and coming actor endures a date with one of the world’s most beautiful women, while an ageing movie star enjoys a leisurely meal, and while directors and producers broker deals – Alfies becomes the worst place to be. A suicide bomber strides through the door, explosives strapped to his chest, warning that should his heart rate be raised or lowered in any dramatic way, Alfies and everything in it will be blown to kingdom come. JJ knows people and she only has to look into his eyes, hear his voice, to know that he means every word of his threat. So begins the terror.
But in show business, one man’s disaster can be another man’s triumph and nowhere is this more apparent than in LA’s news networks which fight tooth and claw for every exclusive – merciless, ruthless, corrupt – feeding this news story of the year to a public that cheers on a suicidal jumper as they drop to their death.
The Killing Game is one of the most engrossing thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Its grip is vice-like and it bites from the very first pages. The siege is depicted in real time, minute by minute, moving between the fear-drenched interior of Alfies to the FBI agents outside to the reporters who will stop at nothing to beat other networks to the ‘human story’. Ironically, the reporters seem to do a better job than the FBI agents in uncovering what’s going on. They’re more driven, perhaps. Not as driven, though, as the poor souls inside the restaurant because what they must endure is horrific.
Most of the scenes inside Alfies are presented to us from JJ’s point of view. She’s a fine observer of character and detail. She is as terrified as everyone else but she’s able to control it enough to become our eyes and ears and we hang on to her every thought.
The hostages are a mixed bag of personalities and few are likeable but they become completely human to us in their suffering. The veneer of money and power and celebrity is stripped away and we share JJ’s view that she might not like some of these people but she would do almost anything to save any of them. Almost. JJ’s character, as well as that of the young actor Alex King, is also revealed to us. Both of these people become increasingly self aware. It’s fascinating to watch.
The Killing Game rockets along. It has a great story. The structure is as brilliantly managed as the pace. Its picture of Hollywood feels deliciously authentic while also revealing that genuine people hide beneath the glamour. But not in every case. I grabbed every opportunity I could to read it even if I only had a minute or two spare and there was one very, very late night of reading. If any thriller deserves to be called unputdownable it’s this one.