Sarah Reviews: A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah


Hannah-A Game For All The FamilyWhat ingredients do you need for a great psychological thriller?

Let’s go through some, shall we?

Begin with a core cast of characters whose very ordinariness makes them instantly relatable. Then toss in a situation or mystery that’s going to test these characters to their limits; take them inside their own heads, and in doing so take us, the reader, with them. Now mix through a series of twists and turns (both internal and external) that tap into the universal sense of human fear.

Novelist Sophie Hannah is no stranger to cooking up this kind of clever and compelling read. So it is of no surprise that for her 11th psychological thriller A Game For All The Family she has assembled all the right ingredients.

After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful new home in Devon. But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George. Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety. The police prove useless so she decides she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

For two thirds of this novel I was riveted. Is Justine mad and everything she sees going on around her not really going on at all? Is the transfixing tale of the oh-so-odd Ingrey family, which is being delivered via installments from Ellen’s high school english essay, actually a spooky reality? And is the head mistress at Ellen’s school, despite the cookie-cutter family photo that sits framed on her office wall, a manipulative and crazy childhater? I turned each page fuelled by a desire to learn more; desperate to put all the intricate puzzle pieces together.

Then, as the picture finally began to appear, I wasn’t sure it was the one I really wanted to see. The direction I had thought – and hoped – the story was going in turned out to be wrong and where it was actually heading, disappointingly, failed to completely satisfy me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly lose all interest in the story, but that urgent want and that transfixion with the tale being told did slump a little.

Maybe this is where I should return to my cooking analogy. You know when you find a recipe that looks and sounds awesome? You gather the ingredients together and then you follow the recipe’s steps one by one, your mouth watering in anticipation the whole time. When it is finally ready and when you have carefully plated up this sure-to-be gastronomic triumph you take your first mouthful. Huh? It doesn’t taste how you’d imagined it would. You can’t quite put your finger on what it is, but something’s missing. Well, that’s kinda how I felt with this book.

Ok, I’ll stop with the cooking analogies now and simply suggest that you try this one out yourself.  It may well be just to your taste.

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