Deadly Game (Orenda Books) by Matt Johnson

Today is the day that I get to post my review for the blog tour for a much awaited novel, ever since I had the fantastic honour of revealing the intriguing cover of Deadly Game by Matt Johnson last year. I have been a great supporter of Matt Johnson since his first book, Wicked Game, was my inspiration to start book reviewing, so I was particularly keen to get my hands on a copy of his book. Also, Orenda Books never disappoints, so when this book arrived, I started reading it straight away.

Robert Finlay is back and whilst he is struggling with the mental after-effects of the near-death experiences of himself and his wife, Jenny, he is trying his best to move on with his life. However, when he saves the life of the daughter of a Romanian publisher, Gheorghe Cristea, after an apparent chance encounter on a diving holiday, Finlay finds himself in danger yet again. Whilst investigating the murder of escaped slave trafficking victim, Relia Stanga, with his new team, Finlay finds himself questioning his judgement yet again, and as the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder take hold, Finlay’s marriage and his life is on the line. To add to Finlay’s misery, old ghosts seem to be raising their ugly heads and Finlay is struggling to work out what is genuine danger and what is just his paranoia getting the better of him.

Having suffered with PTSD himself, Johnson brings a real authenticity to Finlay’s suffering, as Finlay’s paranoia is another enemy that he has to try and outsmart. Finlay flits between vulnerable and heroic as he tries to manage his symptoms, whilst attempting to return to a sense of normality. Finlay doesn’t know who to trust, but nor does the reader, which adds to the mystery of who knows what and who is pulling the strings. Johnson writes Finlay so beautifully to generate the readers sympathy for this man who appreciates where his flaws are but who has such astute instincts that even when he is under pressure, he can still come out fighting and be able to weigh up a difficult situation and to know how to respond.

Johnson strategically manoeuvres Finlay through a world of spies, criminals and crime fighters, and as the authorities seem to all be at odds with each other, Finlay seems to be an almost impartial element who will follow his instincts more than he would follow the status quo. Where there should be a sense of protection from these various agencies, their motives are thrown into doubt throughout and Finlay is left to try and sift through the various viewpoints and game plans to try and work out what is true and what is staged for the greater good. Johnson provides enough authenticity to the roles and procedures of these various agencies that the reader is left to work out with Finlay who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and Finlay’s PTSD provides the reader with enough doubt in Finlay’s decision-making to generate lots of twists and turns and tension throughout.

Cleverly written, the intricate character building and changes in narrative voice has created a beautifully confusing plot as the reader doesn’t know who to trust. Also, the fear and worry of the one woman who knows Finlay better than anyone, his wife Jenny, further gives the reader a sense of doubt in their flawed hero. I made it clear in my review of Wicked Game that I loved the character of Jenny, and that hasn’t changed a bit. Although we don’t hear a lot from her in Deadly Game, she is undoubtedly the most important influence to Finlay and most in tune with his fluctuating emotions. Whilst I love Jenny and her input, it actually works to have her only in a few important scenes in the novel, as she is the key to determining just how much Finlay has a grip on things. These little hints are enough to confirm to the reader that Finlay is far from okay, but doesn’t completely obliterate the reader’s faith in Finlay by potentially giving too much information on just how much Jenny is concerned for her husband. Johnson’s care in building in each character up and revealing them just enough is key to how this book grips the reader and he gets it perfectly right.

Johnson has honed in on real issues which undoubtedly remind the reader of genuine atrocities that plague the U.K. The focus on human trafficking from Eastern Europe is not a fictitious problem and he takes great care to show how this occurs. He starts the book with Relia Stanga’s story, her belief that she is going to a better life, and the result of how this turns out for her is further explored throughout the book. Again, his extrapolation of real issues adds to the authenticity of his novel and definitely gives the reader plenty of food for thought. Johnson gives the reader an awareness of an issue perhaps not given a lot of thought to, which is a commendable thing to do in the writing of his book. Indeed, the promotional video issued by Johnson for Deadly Game focuses on the real problem of human trafficking more than the promotion of his novel.

Deadly Game does not disappoint at all. I loved reading this novel as much as I hoped I would. I love that the focus is more on Finlay’s state of mind rather than the action as we wind our way through the story. Again, awareness of an important issue, PTSD, is paramount for Johnson and this undoubtedly gives the novel a really interesting dimension. Rather than the main protagonist just doubting himself, he has a real issue that often prevents him from making sense of what is going on. Whilst the plot reaches a definite conclusion, Johnson leaves the reader with a sense of more to come. I am very much looking forward to Finlay’s next story, and would like to state my intention, here and now, that I would love to be on the blog tour for the next book too, please. In case there was any doubt… 🙂