This first in a series of five novellas that follow a single storyline introduces the first participant in a contest that seems too good to be true.
African-American James takes care of his beloved grandfather, who is dying of a disease that’s treatable with an experimental method not covered by insurance. Desperate, James enters a contest offered to him online by someone calling himself the “Benefactor.” If James can complete 10 tasks before any other contestants, he will win $10 million. James agrees but soon grows suspicious that the Benefactor is up to no good. James must break into lockers, deliver mysterious packages, and, later, actively commit a crime. When he gets even the smallest detail wrong, the Benefactor threatens him. As James approaches the final tasks, he realizes he needs an ally to escape the Benefactor. Atwood weaves together the first three novellas, all of which follow different contestants, until a common narrative emerges. Although the novellas are numbered, they could be read in any order. Extremely short and written quite simply, they emphasize page-turning suspense. The major storyline clearly will resolve in the fourth and fifth books, almost compelling readers, reluctant or not, to continue with the series. Despite the book’s brevity, James comes across as an admirable character even as he struggles to extricate himself from a seemingly impossible situation.
Highly engaging, with more to come. (Thriller. 12-18)