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Play Dead / Badlands - Book Review

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by TheOnlyFiona (subscribe)
In real life, I do discuss food exactly like how I write in my food review articles. As always my food reviews are scored only on what I've tried and the service expected of that type of establishment.
Published March 19th 2013
Dying for the performance of a lifetime

A killer with a taste for runaway girls.
A house of illusion.
A crimson puzzle.

Tangram, crossword, scrabble; three puzzles about to leave a bloody path. Philadelphia is the puzzle board for the performance of a lifetime. The Seven Wonders of the Great Cygne. Magician, mentalist, master of disguise; looking for a new assistant and girls are dying for the part.

He looks harmless, kind and trustworthy. He could be your neighbour or someone who will lend a helping hand. He will hold your hand until your last breath but the show must go on. A cautionary tale for runaway girls that might just make the rest of us a little less trusting.

Characterisation is a strong feature that makes Play Dead (originally titled Badlands in the US) hard to put down. The victims are much more than foil for the audience to learn about the killer or the detectives pursuing him. There is a real sense that the victims were someone's sister or daughter. Their deaths matter, for our main detectives, Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, its personal. The mystery deepens as the body of a district attorney investigator becomes an obsession for Jessica. While another shock death continues to haunt Byrne.

The investigation is natural, doesn't lag yet is able to give a sense that the case is large enough to enlist the whole department. It feels like a detective show, fitting as the novel is the fourth the series. A guilty pleasure is seeing Jessica and Byrne bend the rules pursuing their side investigations.

The novel also focuses on the backstory of the murderer, Joseph Swann. Although it raises the standard nurture versus nature question, the details will shock you. We all have a choice and Swann's childhood decisions are as brutal as they are extreme. In light of the ending, there is a sense that even with his neglected childhood Swann was somewhat protected. His childhood protectors meet rather karmic ends, perhaps trying to atone for their sins.

The strength of the setting allows the audience to view Philadelphia and the killer's house, Faerwood as additional characters. The locations where the victims are taken from have an added eeriness to them because they are far from being dark and isolated. While Philadelphia echoes the nuances of everyday life, Faerwood is the mask that hides evil. Filled with illusions, it is literally a ladybrith of broken dreams and tortured souls.

Play Dead offers a character driven murder investigation. The storyline presents the best of crime fiction, filled with gobsmacking twists. For those wanting a philosophical exercise in the implications of the connections between developmental and criminal psychology.
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