Author: Kirsty KcKay
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: July 2nd 2015
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
Purchase: The Book Depository / Waterstones
At Cate's isolated boarding school, Killer Game is a tradition. Only a select few are invited to play. They must avoid being killed by a series of thrilling pranks, and identify the murderer. But this time, it's different: the game stops feeling fake and starts getting dangerous and Cate's the next target. Can they find the culprit ... before it's too late?
When I read the very brief synopsis of this book, I knew that this was going to be something that I would enjoy. I love heart pounding and breath taking novels, so when I found out this one was going to be about a bunch of 'murder' pranks going wrong, I knew I had to get my hands on it ASAP. In the past I have tried to enjoy books with very similar themes. Panic by Lauren Oliver is an example of this. Unfortunately I was extremely let down by this book - I just wanted something exhilarating. Luckily the lovely Jazz from Chicken House supplied me with a review copy of Killer Game by Kirsty McKay and I am so glad that she did because this book was exactly what I needed. So what did I think of it?
Killer Game was an extremely fast paced read with plot twists looming around every page. Never once while reading this did I find myself bored because it literally kept on giving and giving. In the beginning of the novel I questioned whether the sudden dynamic shift from Cate's character walking to the initiation to suddenly running up a tree with a boy she hasn't seen in eight years. At first I did majorly wonder whether I thought the great shift in dynamics was necessary but then my mind was put at ease as we once again returned to the main plot of the story. So this novel focuses primarily on the game of 'Killer', a boarding school tradition that is basically a more dynamic and engaging version of 'Wink Murder', a game popular in primary schools. The idea of the game is to 'kill' off your opponents in the most creative way possible. Now in the story McKay does follow some very popular tropes, but she does so well and it's quite refreshing to read. As the novel progresses we slowly gain hints as to who the killer might be, but every time I seemed to guess who it was, McKay very clearly points out that it wasn't who you were thinking of. It's a very clever writing technique to steer your readers towards thoughts of one and then dynamically suggesting it was another, whilst providing solid evidence for her statements. This is definitely not something that the novel lacked. Every detail and claim was backed up with strong evidence that was subtly hinted at throughout the story - very well done!
Obviously this novel isn't without it's darker sides. I mean, when you're playing a game that focuses on 'murdering' someone, it's not going to be light and airy. This novel started to take quite a dark twist around the half way mark, and I was surprised it wasn't taken all of the way over the edge considering the depth of some of the pranks. However saying this, I'm glad the author kept the darkness level where it was because it worked really well, and this could be taken as a high end middle grade novel, or YA considering the themes. In this novel the plot is quite fast paced and you do have to pay attention to what is going on if you're to fully understand the themes and messages this novel conveys. What I think Kirsty McKay does really well is the focus on the reader being able to enjoy the plot without taking in all of these aspects, but still leaving breathing room for the reader to come back to them if they feel they are necessary. It's difficult to describe but I really enjoyed that aspect.
As for the characters and the setting, being in a boarding school allows for lots of doors to be opened in terms of character introductions, development and their weaving into the plot. Thanks to the setting, the author was really allowed to explore this to it's full detail. I've read books set in boarding schools before where you have a collective cast of characters, but they never really touch the setting, which is such a shame because some of those books had so much potential. Killer Game however blends this perfectly and you get the full detailed view of where the characters were visiting and how each setting linked into the story arc. I mentioned briefly the author allowing for the introduction and development of characters and I think this worked really well to her advantage. We're given introductions to not just characters within the assassin's guild but also a few beyond it. Focusing specifically on the characters within the guild, I thought there was a fair amount of development for the majority of the characters -especially the ones that played such a vital role in the detective side of the story.
Our main character Cate is well developed with a spunky and yet very level headed can do attitude. I enjoyed her character as our protagonist and narrator and really liked her approaches to scenarios. The only thing that bugged me slightly about her character was her willingness to drop what she was doing to run off and do something else. This came around quite early on when Cate was re-introduced to Vaughan. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the history between the characters and the chance that we were allowed to see them rekindle their feelings but it all felt quite sudden early one to just drop everything and run. I liked the idea though, I just think that section could have been thought over a bit better. As for Vaughan's character himself, I really did like him. I thought his engagement with Cate was on point, I thought his determination to help was well written. A bit cocky at times but sometimes the best characters are slightly cocky. All in all, he worked well in the story. Now I'm not going to go much further into character development because a lot of the novel focuses on the reader working out the development for themselves. All I'm going to say is that as the novel progressed, my choice of murderer wasn't necessarily who it turned out to be, and whilst I enjoyed the development of it, I thought the reason behind the rogue murders was slightly petty, in it's relation to Cate more specifically, but it worked well I guess.
So overall Killer Game was an enthusiastic and budding read for anyone who wants to feel that the exhilaration of teenage mischief with a dark and foreboding twist. I think if you're going into this it's best to go in blind and to enjoy the characters development for what is there and try not to focus too heavily on working out the culprit. Everything reveals itself in due course. I award Killer Game by Kirsty McKay a 4 out of 5 stars on my classification scale. This book is definitely one I will be re-reading in the future. Although I know the outcome and the culprit, it will be interesting to re-read the book baring this in mind and looking out for all of the clues. Once again, thank you to Jazz from Chicken House for the review copy. I greatly appreciate and I am eagerly awaiting to read more books from Chicken House because they publish some absolute classics.