For a first novel, The Wide Game displays a notable amount of promise. The writing is particularly strong, as if author Michael West spent a long time honing his craft before submitting his manuscript to publishers. It's also more complicated than it seems at first glance, with some surprisingly deep themes eventually being raised. And though the idea behind the book isn't anything particularly new - a bunch of high school graduates get stalked through a remote location by someone or something that intends to do them significant harm - there are some effectively tense scenes, especially through the book's middle section.
It wasn't all good though. The problems I had with The Wide Game lie with the way the story was told, and the manner in which the tale we get is quite different from that implied in the book's blurb. To illustrate this latter point, here's a paragraph lifted straight from the blurb:
Now, as he meets the survivors of that day once more, Paul makes a chilling discovery: the incomprehensible forces that toyed with them have yet to finish playing their own game.
Reading that I was anticipating the story to be about the survivors of the Wide Game from ten or so years before. Yet almost all of this novel takes place via an extended flashback. By the time we're back following those survivors in the present day, the book is about 75% over. In essence, the present day "action" serves as little more than a coda to the main meat of the tale when the protagonists were in the midst of the game. My use of quotation marks there serves to highlight how little actually happens in the present time. The reader is asked to care more about the main character and his relationship status than the threat that has been unveiled out amongst the corn rows. West does throw in a twist that adds an extra layer to the story, but otherwise, said threat pretty much does nothing in the present day, making for a wholly unsatisfying end to the story.
Perhaps West addresses these concerns in the sequels that follow this novel? I don't know, but I'm interested in finding out, mainly because he wrote the sequels years later, so I'm hoping they'll be all the better for the extra writing experience he'd have gained in that time.
3 Murders of Crows for The Wide Game.