Book Review Murder-Mystery

A Game for all the Family by Sophie Hannah

Book Summary

You’ve left the city – and the career that nearly destroyed you – for a fresh start on the coast. But soon after the move, your daughter starts to withdraw, because her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school.

You beg the principal to reconsider, only to be told that George hasn’t been expelled. Because there is, and was, no George.

Who is lying? Who is real? Who is in danger? Who is in control? As you search for answers, the anonymous calls begin – a stranger who insists that you and she share a traumatic past and a guilty secret. And then the caller threatens your life…

This book, for me at least, is a curiosity, as in, having read it, I’m not really sure what to make of it. On the one hand words like odd, weird, unusual and, dare I say, a little disturbing, come to mind. Disturbing? Yes, mostly because of the ending. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

A Game for all the Family is, on the surface and, at first glance, a very ordinary straight forward story of a family caught up in what amounts to weird circumstances that, as the story progresses, become mildly unusual right on through to downright weird.

Told from the first person POV, through our snarky MC, Justine Merrison. She, her husband Alex, and young daughter Ellen, are moving from London to a large estate in Devon, after Justine walks out on her very stressful job in TV. And, we suspect, maybe because of burn out, and is looking forward to a life in the middle of nowhere doing, well, nothing.

All seems well, the family dynamic is solid, and a happy one despite the move. But then, without call or warning, Justine starts to receive a series of threatening phone calls from a stranger. Justine doesn’t recognise the voice and, at first while a little unnerved, assumes it’s just some local utter mistaking her for someone else.

Meanwhile, Justine’s usually snarky, and talkative daughter starts withdrawing. Coincidence or connected? Slowly, we begin to find out. It seems Ellen has met someone at school who, no sooner has she connected with on a rather unhealthy level with, than he’s expelled under mysterious circumstances.

While Justine investigates for her own sake, and that of her daughter’s, we’re being treated to being the secret readers of a story being written by Ellen, for a school project, about the Ingrey family. But is the story just a figment of her imagination, or is it hiding a deep dark truth?

At least, that’s what we’re led to believe as Justine not only investigates the missing George, who his school is saying never existed. To who is making the increasingly threatening calls, to other strange things happening. Like, when a grave shaped hole appears one morning outside the family’s back door.

A hole, by the way, Justine falls into. As the stakes are upped, and we learn more about the missing George, his family, especially his mother Anne and Ellen’s strange tale of a strange family beset by a series of weird murders. We, the reader, find ourselves deep in the thick of it all wondering what is real and just what’s the truth, and who gets to decide which is which.

In the end though, as the author attempts to pull all the loose threads together, I wasn’t fully convinced. While trying to shows us what might or might not be real, in a story that seems to be all about lies and a fantasy world created by a disturbed mind, the ending was deeply disturbing.

It was more a revelation of what a perfectly ordinary, seemingly sane person will do to someone else, who’s living in a completely fabricated lie. And then, justifying what they did, with the vague notion that it was okay. Because it was either them or her kind of thing, and after all, they were a liar, right?

Let’s just say I find this kind of story really troubling. There is no excuse for murder, however you want to frame it. But then, that’s just my opinion, and you might think otherwise.

A slightly twisted, somewhat convoluted plot involving lies, and deceit on a grand scale, set in a very ordinary domestic setting, with a troubling ending that may leave a bad taste in your mouth, depending on who you’re rooting for. A Game For All The Family was, in the end, a bit of a let down.

Sophie Hannah
Hodder & Stoughton, 2015
Paperback, 432 pages
Murder-Mystery | Suspense

10 comments on “A Game for all the Family by Sophie Hannah

  1. Avatar

    Hm, you made me curious, great review!

    • Alex

      Thanks, Meggy. It was a rather interesting read. On the one hand I was sucked in, but then, by the end, I was a little deflated with the outcome, which was kind of odd. But others might find it a suitable conclusion. Who knows.

  2. Avatar

    Oh damn, it sounds quite original to my ears and not a story I might have read before. Maybe you’d better not read Haven’t They Grown then either because you’ll have a hard time believing it. Me, I just go with the flow and I love fantasy that isn’t fantasy. I’m not making any bets but I still have a feeling I’d like this one more than you have.

    • Alex

      It was original, Inge, don’t get me wrong. It was definitely different from anything I’ve read in the last couple of years. And it does suck you in with the first POV narrative, as well as the mystery. It was just the unjustified ending that got me.

      I think Justine is supposed to be an unreliable narrator, and thus, the ending would be better explained, but still. It left a nasty tase in my mouth, as it were.

  3. Avatar

    Too bad this was a disappointment. When the ending leaves you adrift, it’s hard to remember anything but that.

    • Alex

      It was a fast read because it was absorbing, but yes, that ending? After all the build up, it felt not only rushed, it left me annoyed with the moral ambiguity of it all. But then, I might be a lone dissenting voice, who knows.

  4. Avatar

    Mmm this one seems not entirely convincing indeed. And I agree with you: there is no excuse for murder!

    • Alex

      Phew, I’m glad at least one person agrees with me, thanks, Sophie. I think that while the premise sounded intriguing, the end result was very disturbing, to say the least.

  5. Avatar

    Well, you’ve definitely got my curiosity up, that’s for sure! Great review! Sometimes I finish a book and I don’t know how to feel about it, if it’s sticking with me because I enjoyed it or just because it was too weird to let go of…this sounds like it would probably fall into that category too.

    • Alex

      This one could have been weirdly clever and, up to a point, it was, but then, like so many authors nearing the end. They either rush it, fluff it with a stupid explanation, or downright ruin it, like this one, with an ending that’s supposed to be a clever twist but isn’t.

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