Review: Cheryl Swanson's debut mystery, Death Game, introduces computer graphics expert Cooper O'Brien in a tale of international intrigue that falls just short of being a first-rate thriller.
Stephen Ludlow, the son of a wealthy and powerful businessman, has been murdered, shot by someone caught on a surveillance camera. When the killer is identified as Cooper's younger brother Jimmie, she refuses to believe it. Though Jimmie's had some emotional problems, Cooper is convinced, despite the evidence, that he couldn't be involved in murder. As she begins to untangle the threads that led Jimmie to be on the Ludlow yacht the night Stephen was murdered, she discovers a terrorist operation that threatens the lives of thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay area.
Swanson is a gifted storyteller, but she has tried to incorporate far too much material into Death Game. There are two gripping plotlines here but the links between them are at best tenuous and they probably would have been better told in separate books.
First there's the videotape of her brother Jimmie shooting Stephen Ludlow. Cooper is a computer graphics expert, and the situation seems perfect for her to use her skills to clear her brother's name. Swanson establishes the relationships between all the principal characters and introduces how increasingly realistic environments are required for advanced video game development. Could the murder have simply been a stage for a video game gone horribly awry? Did someone replace the images on the surveillance camera to frame Jimmie? If so, why? Death Game seems to go in this direction for a while when the plot abruptly and somewhat inexplicably transitions to something else entirely.
That something else is related to the visually arresting cover that depicts a burning Golden Gate Bridge. It's probably not giving away too much to note that the secondary plot in Death Game involves a terrorist organization's plans to blow it up. The how and why, and Cooper's involvement in uncovering their plans, makes for compelling reading. But the ties between the terrorist plot and the murder of Stephen Ludlow seem particularly strained, if not implausible, resulting in a less than satisfactory conclusion to this ambitious literary effort.
Swanson provides Cooper O'Brien with a few tantalizing attributes in Death Game that don't get much attention here. A more tightly plotted sequel would not only be welcome by readers but also give her the opportunity to explore these characteristics in more depth.
Acknowledgment: Cheryl Swanson provided a copy of Death Game for this review.
Review Copyright © 2007 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Death Game: San Francisco, California
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Death Game by Cheryl Swanson — A Cooper O'Brien Mystery
Publisher: Zumaya Publications
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: November 2006
List Price: $14.99