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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Dark Game

8th Mar, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Published in 2019, The Dark Game (Flame Tree Press tpb) by Jonathan Janz found its way to my door some time after I gave up writing the Case Notes column in Black Static, but I decided to read and review it anyway.

Legendary author Roderick Wells selects ten writers for a summer long writing retreat at his isolated estate where they will be in competition with each other. The last time such an event took place the victor went on to become a celebrated and highly successful author; nobody knows what happened to the other nine. But as soon as they arrive the ten realise that this is something far more sinister, a trial in which not only their writing ability is to be tested but also moral fibre and the will to survive. Each of the ten has a dark secret in their past, which is the reason for their selection, while Roderick Wells has an agenda the others can't even begin to imagine.

The central conceit here is brilliantly executed. There are scenes it's almost painful to read as the writers have their work torn apart by Wells in an orgy of psychological abuse that is one part 'kill your darlings' to three parts ego destruction. And at the same time we are astonished by the lengths to which these people will go, how much they will put up with, to realise their literary ambitions, Janz skilfully blending fact and fiction, merging back story and present day events to the benefit of both, and making his characters come alive on the page. Among the cast is previously successful Lucy, who fears she may be a one hit wonder; horror writer Rick, haunted by a ghost from his past; femme fatale Anna, who finds her seductions won't work on Wells, much to her chagrin; survivalist Bryan, who isn't above physical intimidation and whose macho persona is simply a front. In many ways the book resembles a reality TV style outing for writers, with secrets and shortcomings exposed. And at the heart of the web is Wells, his servitors figments of his own imagination, and reality itself contorting to serve his will. Imagination is the key to everything that takes place, a way to transform reality, something that writers know all too well; and to defeat their dark nemesis the ten must somehow find a way to the same conviction, the same level of self-belief that Wells has. Will they succeed and what will be the consequences if they do? You'll need to read the book to find out.

Jonathan Janz has produced an engaging and compelling work of fiction, one that touches on the things writers and readers both hold dear and turns them against us, shows that they can be every bit as terrifying as they are pleasurable. The Dark Game is a book Roderick Wells himself would be happy to put his name to, though I'm not sure if he'd want anyone to read it. Fortunately we don't need his approval or permission.




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