BLAME GAMERS by Willard  Thurston


A Seasonal Novel
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In Thurston’s debut novel, a photographer and a woman investigate the latter’s dangerous ex-boyfriend and stumble onto terrorist recruitment cells.

The last straw for American aspiring dancer and actress Tara Quinn, 19, was when her boyfriend, Ryan Dyck, pulled a knife on her. Tara’s American family friend, Millie, convinces her Canadian stepsister, Hélène Bascule, to take Tara in. But when Ryan goes missing, drug-dealing thugs assault Tara, believing that she knows where her ex has hidden some funds. She briefly stays at Hélène’s bed-and-breakfast before suddenly departing. Meanwhile, Hélène’s son, Mason, a photographer living in East Vancouver, is fascinated by the music of Irish folk singer Deirdre Corr, Tara’s half sister. During the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, Deirdre is seriously injured by an unknown assailant; Ryan had been temporarily staying at his university pal Mason’s place, but after the riot, he inexplicably disappears. He winds up back in Los Angeles, where he spots Tara filming a movie. Tara sees him and flees but later returns to the movie set under the aliasAnn Able.” When she encounters Mason during a photo shoot, the two realize they have things in common—namely, ties to both Ryan and Deirdre. Mason and Tara look for answers regarding Deirdre’s assault, and they find out that someone had robbed a Mafia cache from the Nefer club, where Deirdre was singing the night of the riot. It turns out that the robbery—and Ryan, as well—are connected to a terrorist network. This makes the couple’s investigation decidedly more dangerous, especially when people start turning up dead.

Overall, this is an absorbing, if muted, thriller. Thurston slowly starts things off by establishing his characters first; one early scene consists of a lengthy conversation between Hélène and Tara that reveals their dense back stories. Mason, meanwhile, is an unconventional protagonist. He’s much more an observer than a participant, and his actions have little impact on the plot; this is consistent with the character, though, as he’s a photographer who’s trying not to stand out as he documents vagrants. The thriller elements do eventually enter the narrative, though, and they soon provide an escalating sense of menace. Ryan is depicted as the biggest threat, but the author also shows how alarmingly easy it can be to persuade people to join a jihadi cell. The novel repeatedly criticizes the notion of “political correctness,” which it portrays as something that terrorists can exploit. The story manages to deliver occasional jolts, including multiple deaths and the revelations of certain characters’ surprising agendas. Thurston often offers prolonged descriptions, in narration and dialogue, but they’re packed with information: “An hour later she awoke to find she was alone and curiously alert to the faint sounds of a piano coming from the salon below her bedroom window.” The humor is effectively understated, as when one character, worried about a screenplay’s small but significant change to Aztec mythology, warns a director that “micro snubs can lead to macro retaliation.”

A leisurely but often engaging tale of terrorists.

Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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