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review 2019-05-28 11:31
Twists, turns, a fascinating backdrop and a new hero
The Never Game (Colter Shaw #1) - Jeffery Deaver

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an early ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Jeffery Deaver does not need an introduction. He has been writing and publishing crime and mystery novels and thrillers for a very long time, and he has been collecting awards and accolades for almost as long. Despite my interest in those genres, I hadn’t read any of his books yet, partly because I always hesitate to start reading a series halfway through (yes, and I had many other books to get on with). When I saw this novel, the first in a new series, I thought this was a good chance to remedy that.

This novel has all the required elements for those who love the genre: an enticing opening (in fact, we are given a glimpse of an extremely tense scene that will come much later in the book), a hero with pretty amazing abilities, a complex past, and a few secrets (and a curious name too, Colter Shaw), a twisted case that gets more and more complicated as we go along (red herrings, false endings, action scenes, bizarre clues, plenty of suspects), useless and useful members of law enforcement (LaDonna Standish is my favourite character in the whole book, and she ticks all the boxes: African-American, lesbian, married with a child, a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, intelligent, a good professional, dismissed and bullied by her co-workers), some sort of love-interest (I didn’t care too much for that aspect of the story), an intriguing backdrop to the story (Silicon Valley and the gaming industry), another case he is working on as well that is pretty personal for the hero, and a twist/hook at the end.

If you like the description and are seeking for those elements in a story, do not hesitate. I can’t fault Deaver’s writing. He knows his stuff and he delivers in all aspects. He knows how to bait the reader’s interest, and his mastery of plot is evident. He drops hints, and when you think you have worked out who is the guilty party, or what is going on, he pulls the rug from under your feet. He is good at combining a fairly modern writing style, including plenty of action and the latest technologies, with well-tried classical elements; including the final explanation of how he worked out who the guilty party was (it is not quite a Sherlock Holmes or Poirot moment, but not that far from it). Although most of the story is told in the third-person from Shaw’s point of view, we don’t get all the information he does, for very good narrative reasons.

Any negatives? I cannot compare this book to his previous novels, and although I’ve checked the reviews, it seems that some people see this as the beginning of another winning series (it seems that the character of Colter Shaw had already been introduced in one of his short-stories), and others feel that is far from his best work. For me, one of the issues was the main character. If you had told me about this man, who was home-schooled and grew up raised in a survivalist household in the mountains of California, whose parents were both brilliant professors, but whose father (Ash) suffered from paranoia and insisted in educating his children (two boys and a girl) in the art of survival, totally isolated from the world and who ended up dead in somewhat unclear circumstances; whose mother was her husband’s psychiatrist and chose to follow his radical lifestyle and indulge (?) his paranoia, whose brother disappeared, and who now lives by working on a variety of criminal cases and collecting rewards (but seems to have other financial means) while at the same time pursues his own investigation, I would have said we were onto a winner. He is skilled, he seems to be attractive, he has commitment issues (unsurprisingly), he is somewhat obsessive and does things his own way (he loves to keep notebooks and writes his observations by hand), he is clever and witty, calm and collected under pressure, and no danger or risk faces him. Although he is not that bothered about rules and regulations, he has a sense of morality and of right and wrong (and he chooses to do the right thing). Despite all those characteristics and his back story, which should have made the character irresistible and compelling, I didn’t feel a particular connection to him. I wonder if it was the third-person narration (we also get flashbacks of episodes of his childhood, as a way to flesh out the character’s background and to build up interest and offer more clues) or something else, but although he was interesting, I felt as if I was observing the action rather than getting really engaged and worried about what might happen to him (or most of the other characters). Perhaps it read too much like a movie, and I can take or leave action flicks (I enjoy them, but they don’t engage my mind for long). Some reviewers have compared the character (negatively) to Jack Reacher, and I guess other characters will come to mind for those who love the genre. The character himself goes to pains to explain he is neither a private investigator nor a bounty hunter, but I’m not sure that makes him unique or distinctive enough. As I said, most readers love the character, and I am convinced he’ll be further developed in future novels in the series, so this should not put anybody off if the rest interests you.

I saw some readers complaining about the fact that the book was centred around the world of computer games, some because they didn’t enjoy it and found that slowed the novel down, and others because they felt there were inaccuracies (I can’t comment on that), but although I’m not a gamer, I found the descriptions interesting (not too detailed) and enjoyed the main plot line and the mystery behind the kidnappings (it is not unique but it works well). I made some general comments about the ending earlier, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t go into it in more detail, but I agree that there seems to be a sudden and surprising change of direction at one point (some readers have complained of a “rushed” ending), although everything is explained and I guess that is the name of the game.

In sum, personally I enjoyed the story and the plot, but at this point I am not sure I’m interested enough to keep reading the series. On the other hand, I am convinced Deaver’s reputation is well deserved, and I intend to read more of his novels in the future. (I read a very early ARC copy of the novel, so it might well be that not all I say applies to the finished product).

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