Games for Dead Girls by Jen Williams

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Thriller, murder-mystery and horror

Games for

I enjoyed Games for Dead Girls, it held my attention quite easily.  The atmosphere is great, it was easy to imagine the setting and the tension was ever mounting.  But, there are a few issues, not least of which are exacerbated by a slow moving plot, a number of threads that take a while to come together and an unreliable narrator.

I would advise you not to read the blurb for this particular story.  I personally think it contains spoilers.  Fortunately I couldn’t remember the description when I picked this one up so I got lucky in that respect.

So, this is a story with essentially two plotlines that will eventually become linked through the central character.  We have, effectively three povs, or more to the point, three timelines.  A post war (WWII) timeline that I won’t elaborate upon and a Charlie ‘now’ and Charlie ‘then’ timeline.  In a way this can make the story feel a little jumpy at first as you flip back between the seemingly unrelated character from the 50s to Charlie aged 10/11 and present day as an adult.  Charlie experienced a childhood tragedy that has had a dire effect on her life.  As a child, Charlie had an active imagination, she liked to make up stories and elaborate on urban legends and local folklore embellishing them with dark and dramatic twists, unfortunately one of these tales gained traction and took on a life of it’s own with disastrous results.  Now, as an adult, Charlie returns to the place that changed her life so dramatically.  She’s clearly trying to stay incognito, dying her hair, etc, and she appears to be looking for something from her past.  At the same time, it appears that a young girl has gone missing from the beach and Charlie’s amateur detecting soon uncovers the rather grisly truth that a number of girls have gone missing from this area over the course of the years, usually pegged as runaways and not investigated further.  At the same time, Charlie is being watched.  Okay, that’s it for my description of the plot.

Firstly, ‘the good’.  I really liked the three timelines.  They’re all very distinctive.  For example, Charlie’s timeline as a child is really well done.  The way she befriends another young girl on holiday, her attempts to impress her, the way they sneak around and fantasise about things – it feels like something out of a real childhood.  Both their families, completely different, come across well.  One, a large family, happy go lucky, loving their children but not necessarily keeping an eye on them 24/7 (in fact more often than not wanting the kids ‘out from under their feet’), the other small, secretive and a little mysterious, the father usually in a temper and the mum noticeably absent whilst the daughter takes any opportunity to get out of the way.  Then we have adult Charlie. still not above spinning a yarn and definitely not the most reliable narrator – given what we read in her early chapters (not to mention her memory not always being the most reliable).  She’s creeping around looking for something from her past – we eventually discover why this is so important to her  but I won’t give it away.

The atmosphere and tension is also really good.  I liked the settings described.  The campsite from Charlie’s childhood compared with the now, similar, but slightly rundown version (or was her ten year old self simply wearing rose tinted glasses?).  The small seaside village struggling to keep going.  Everything a bit dingey and dilapidated.  The cold also plays a contributory factor.  Charlie is away ‘off season’ and the grey skies, cold and blustery beach and dark early nights all feed into the story really well.

Secondly, ‘the maybe not as good’.  There is a complexity here which can be a little frustrating.  To be fair, I didn’t particularly find it an issue because my natural curiosity usually wins the day and I can’t wait to find out what’s going on.  But, the process of finding the who/why/when/where is a little slow and may be tedious for some.  I actually read this one quite quickly and I would say that the two storylines do eventually converge to provide answers.  I think this probably could have been simplified to make the story have a smoother feel though.

Thirdly, ‘the not so good’.  Well, I mentioned that Charlie was an unreliable narrator.  Clearly as the book begins we have certain elements described in a certain way – these elements, as we move through the book then seem to become something else, partly because we now have more knowledge but the execution of this felt a little ‘off’ for me and I don’t want to say why because it will involve spoilers.  Also, you really do have to take a bit of a leap of faith with this one.  Fortunately, reading plenty of fantasy and stories with magical realism this isn’t a daunting prospect for me but even so I did have a few ‘really?’ moments.

Overally, I think this book had a few bumps here and there but I actually found it to be a gripping read and very easy to get through, maybe a bit over chaotic in some respects, but the atmosphere and tension were really good and I enjoyed the murder/mystery/thriller and even light horror elements.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own conclusion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars