Playing With Death by Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

The Blurb On The Back:

FBI Special Agent Rose Blake has faced evil and survived.

Haunted by a failed undercover mission, Rose is finding it hard to shake the memories of her close encounter with a ruthless serial killer – one who is still free, and could strike again without warning.

The call to investigate a suspected arson attack that’s left a man dead is a welcome distraction.  It’s not the kind of case usually assigned to the FBI, but nothing about this crime is usual.  As Rose digs deeper, she finds herself confronting the sort of imagination her son might see in the fantasy worlds of his video games.

But when your opponent is a killer, nothing feels like a game … 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s the very near future.  Rose Blake is a San Francisco FBI agent who lives with her husband Jeff (a university professor advising Senator Chris Keller on his re-election campaign) and autistic son, 14-year-old Robbie.  Rose is suffering PTSD after going undercover to capture the Backwoods Butcher who dismembered men and women he met on internet dating sites.  Despite finding grisly evidence that Shaun Koenig was responsible, he escaped capture and is still on the run, which brought Rose and the team criticism from the press and social media.

When the Department of Defence asks the FBI to check out the death of Gary Coulter, who’s found burned to death in his locked apartment, Rose heads up the investigation.  The police think it’s a suicide but Coulter’s neighbours report that he was shouting at someone before he died.  As Rose investigates she finds connections between the Department of Defence and Silicon Valley’s biggest tech company, which is set to launch the next “must have” gadget – the Skin (a virtual reality suit) and all the time Shaun Koenig’s out there, looking for revenge …

Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis’s tech thriller (the first in a new series) has some interesting ideas but is ultimately a leaden, two-dimensional affair where most men are rapists or sex creeps, the antagonist is every serial killer cliche imaginable, the protagonist dull and worthy and the twists eminently guessable so that it was an effort to get to the end.

There are some interesting ideas underpinning the novel – I particularly liked the Skin and the possibilities it opened up and Scarrow and Francis make some interesting points about internet regulation and how it’s a political issue.  Unfortunately the rest of the plot just doesn’t do it all justice with the authors wasting a storyline involving artificial intelligence with poor characterisation and worse dialogue.  Shaun Koenig is a woefully clichéd serial killer (right down to his motivation) and I was uncomfortable with how many male characters in the book are closet rapists and sexual predators.  I guessed every twist and Rose wasn’t interesting enough for me to root for her (her PTSD in particular didn’t convince given what we’re told about the failure of her undercover mission).  Ultimately there’s nothing her to make me want to read the rest of the series and I’d hesitate to check out Scarrow and Francis’s other work.

PLAYING WITH DEATH was released in the United Kingdom on 13th July 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.

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