The Dark Game

Jonathan Janz

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - JOHN M. MUR­RAY

Flame Tree Press (APRIL) Hard­cover $24.95 (304pp) 978-1-78758-187-6

Jonathan Janz’s The Dark Game is an unset­tling, fas­ci­nat­ing hor­ror drama about moral­ity and fame.

Leg­endary writer Rod­er­ick Wells hosts a re­treat at his se­cluded es­tate for ten up-and-com­ing au­thors that of­fers huge mon­e­tary re­wards and the pos­si­bil­ity of a pres­ti­gious lit­er­ary ca­reer. The par­tic­i­pants range from a de­but pow­er­house who’s afraid of burn­ing out to a more ex­pe­ri­enced but strug­gling writer. All have one sur­pris­ing bond.

As Wells’s dark na­ture re­veals it­self, so too do the sin­is­ter se­crets hid­den in each writer’s past. Be­fore long, it be­comes ap­par­ent that mad­ness and evil per­me­ate both Wells and his es­tate. Sub­con­scious fears and night­mares made real prowl the grounds as Wells seeks to break the au­thors down for his own pur­poses.

All of the char­ac­ters are flawed, with un­usual trau­mas in their pasts: one left a man to die in an aban­doned house when they were a child; an­other rou­tinely abused a men­tally chal­lenged Amish girl. Each seems to de­serve their fate.

Janz writes with a deft and un­nerv­ing hand. Ev­ery scene fea­tures unset­tling el­e­ments, from sub­tle fore­shad­ow­ing to overt gore and mu­ti­la­tion. Chap­ters are short and en­tranc­ing as they quickly ro­tate through the au­thors’ points of view. Snip­pets from their works in progress layer in ad­di­tional sus­pense. Re­veals are fre­quent and shock­ing. The story be­comes less about who will win than about see­ing which au­thor can stave off the hor­ror long enough to es­cape.

Early fore­shad­ow­ing feels forced, but as the novel pro­gresses, the unset­tling el­e­ments un­spool with drama and flair. Char­ac­ter re­veals and the true na­ture of the es­tate come to feel or­ganic, and the cli­max wraps every­thing up in a gory bow with­out com­pro­mis­ing the reign­ing dark tone.

Dark, vi­o­lent, and twisted, The Dark Game blends hor­ror with a char­ac­ter study to dis­turb­ing ef­fect.

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