3 out of 5 stars
Published in 2015, Killer Game is a YA mystery novel written by Kirsty McKay. Set in a boarding school isolated on a private island, the story follows new student Cate as she is invited to play the school’s traditional game – Killer. The rules are simple: amongst the Guild of Assassins, there is one chosen Killer whose job it is to secretly murder the rest of the guild through a series of pranks until there is either no one left or they are caught out. Unfortunately for Cate, this generation of the game begins to feel like more than just a prank – there is a real killer on the loose and Cate is the next target.
There was something about the synopsis of this story that really drew me in when I first found this book in the store. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.
I have to give credit where credit is due. The narrative of the story is pretty good. It’s not the most eloquently written novel I’ve ever read, but it is definitely a sight better than some of the YA books I’ve had the misfortune of picking up recently. It’s written in third-person so from the start that was a nice sign to me that anything was on the table. A book, to me at least, feels like it can have a lot more potential with the main characters when the narrative is third-person. When you’re an outsider looking in from afar, there is a sense of helplessness that a third person narrative gives you – you’re never guaranteed the safety of your favourite or even the main protagonist. That was one thing that I enjoyed about the way McKay wrote this book. Though it was very, very slow at getting to the point – a bit too slow for the length the book is – I had that doubt looming over me the entire time. Yes, there are many first person books where the narrator dies but not many.
Yes, there are many first person books where the narrator dies but not many.
The story was intriguing and held a lot of promise, but for a book about killing there really wasn’t that much. It’s going to make me sound like a psycho, I know, but when there is talk of an Assassin’s Guild, a game literally called Killer, and the hint of a real killer on the loose, even in a boarding school situation, I was expecting there to be some actual sleuth work, an actual murder. To save you time, there is no real murder. There are a couple of times where things could be seen as attempted murder but not a single person actually dies – not even a character who is attacked with a knife.
Overall, there was an air of mystery to it that only really kicked in in the last quarter or so of the book; and when the mysteries all started to get pieced together, I found that – for once – my predictions on who the Killer was turned out to be completely wrong. Unfortunately, it was because I was giving Kirsty McKay more credit than she really earned on this one.
I won’t give away who the True Killer really is but I will say the reasons behind them and their motives was pretty pathetic. I don’t know if it’s a mark against McKay’s writing or the type of society we live in that True Killer’s motives were downright sad, but – tied together with other themes explored in the book – it makes for an interesting narrative on issues that are being spoken about more but not nearly enough without a sense of taboo around it.
McKay tackles some issues in this novel that I really wasn’t expecting to see. Though I’m a tad tired of seeing unnecessary romance in YA novels, it was a nice change to see a main-female have more than one ‘romance’ and not get slut-shamed. McKay wrote about the treatment of relationships in a mature way that I really admired – no one questioned Cate’s decisions, and the relationships themselves were never really a focal point. It was like a passing explanation sometimes. Like: Boy A was intrigued by New Girl so made a move. They were close but New Girl didn’t want to take it too far. The relationship ended when Boy A snuck into New Girl’s dorm room to have some fun but got told to leave before he could do anything. To feel better, New Girl made the mistake of making out with one of her only friends, causing a rift between them. But now a friend from New Girl’s past has joined the school and he’s hot so after some time passes and they’ve rekindled their friendship, they fall in love.
I made that sound pretty sucky but that really happens. That is the basic summary of the romance in this novel.
The other high stakes theme that got spoken about was rape. Towards the end of the book, one of the male characters has a moment of unnatural confidence. Throughout, this guy has been a meek, timid little dude. He has feelings for Cate but has never really been able to act on them. But at this one point of the book, because of the relationship Cate now finds herself in and the type of guy she’s been attracted to so far, he’s convinced himself that he needs to be this warped version of masculinity that he sees in these other boys. The character is written in such a way that you can really feel the desperation inside him, just how deeply he has convinced himself that Cate will like what he’s about to do. She manages to get him off of her before he does anything drastic and he reverts to the small, crying boy he’d been before. The whole sequence and another scene later on never felt forced. It didn’t feel tacked on at any point.
The treatment of the offending character afterward was interesting too. After the attack, Cate discovers the Killer card in this person’s belongings and aims to get revenge by outing him in front of the entire Guild. Things don’t go to plan though and Cate is sent to the Infirmary for protection after an attempt on her life goes wrong – an incident unrelated to the assault. Meek Guy visits Cate and attempts to justify himself, going as far as to say she enjoyed it really. Instead of screaming rape in front of the entire school, Cate does things rationally in a way to get Meek Guy the help he needs. She says she’s going to write to his parents, explain what happened and ask them to help him. She says it’ll stay between them, that she won’t say it publically. He reacts aggressively and tells her to go die, but she keeps her promise and he’s later revealed to be getting therapy for stress.
It was a take on that situation that I haven’t seen before. You see it far too often the mob mentality that people, especially people online, get when something bad happens – whether it’s rape or some other crime. They don’t wait for the whole story, they rush off and run their mouths, they attack a person and tear them down before they’ve even had the chance to get help. I really liked that this story didn’t do that. It addressed a taboo issue calmly, it showed a level of maturity I wasn’t expecting and offered a different view.
I recommend the book for its social commentary – but, as I said earlier, if you are looking for a murder mystery then this isn’t for you. There are attacks, but even the prank murders are pretty pathetic. I know that it makes me sound like a complete weirdo but I was expecting some death, a fully fledged murder mystery with a killer on the loose and a plot that would get me so tense I couldn’t move.
This is not that kind of book.