Timy reviews A Numbers Game, RJ Dark‘s first book in a new Mystery/Thriller series, published by Wavesback on June 4, 2021.
An eARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity!
|Series: Mal & Jackie #1
|Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
|Date of Publishing: June 4, 2021
|Trigger Warnings: Violence, Gore, Torture (not graphic), Racism
|Page count: 282
One dead man and a missing lottery ticket.
Two family members who need that money to get away from the rundown Blades Edge estate.
Three local gangsters who want that money for themselves.
Meet Malachite Jones – the foremost (and only) psychic medium on the gritty Blades Edge estate. All he wants are two things: a name that isn’t ‘Malachite’, and a quiet life. And maybe some real psychic powers, but he’s making a living without them.
Janine Stanbeck wants to find her dead husband Larry’s winning ticket and escape Blades Edge with her son. And she thinks Mal can help her.
But Larry’s dad is the crime lord of the estate, and he wants that ticket for himself, and worse for Mal, he’s not the only criminal with his eyes on it. Add in two coppers desperate to nick Mal’s best, only, and admittedly quite dangerous, friend, Jackie Singh Kattar, and Blades Edge is getting pretty crowded.
Malachite Jones might not really be able to talk to the dead, but if he and his friend Jackie Singh Kattar can’t find that money and a solution that pleases everyone they’re likely to be in need of a psychic medium themselves.
The first Mal Jones and Jackie Singh Kattar adventure: a chaotic rollercoaster ride through a Yorkshire landscape full of double crossing friends, dogged police, psychotic gangster and voices from the other side.
‘Could be wireless?’
He nodded. ‘Could be. Anyway, I got the box plugged in off my friend George, he calls it The Fuckenator.’
‘What does it do?’
I had a really hard time picking a song for A Numbers Game and I don’t think I really succeeded. Eventually, I settled for Human by Rag’n’Bone Man, because Mal finds himself in a position where everyone is putting pressure on him and wanting something from him. Often they threaten him. And then there is his past, his addiction which he still fights against even though he’s been clear for a long time. But times are hard. And we are all only human after all.
Look, it’s not really a secret that I developed a literary crush for RJ Barker‘s writing with The Tide Child series, so when I learned he was publishing a Mystery/Thriller series under the pen name RJ Dark, I knew I had to get my hands on that too. I’m on a bit of a Fantasy break at the moment and I always loved Mysteries. Plus, I know we happen to have one favorite author in common: C.J. Sansom, who writes historical fiction/murder mysteries. So, this was totally the right book at the right time situation and it did manage to get me out of my reading slump a bit.
A Numbers Game tells the story of an investigation after a lost lottery ticket that sets fire to the city as two warring gangs try to get their hands on it. Mal, a con man, and alleged psychic medium finds himself right in the middle of the events as everyone expects him to find the ticket. Luckily for him, he has an old friend, Jackie on his side, otherwise, this investigation wouldn’t have been too long-lived. Amid the chaos, Mal and Jackie do their best to unknot the threads that lead to backstabbing, treachery, and pissed-off psychopathic gang leaders. Welcome to Yorkshire, please mind your fingers as they might get lost.
Setting & worldbuilding: I’m totally partial to books set in the UK (and London), and Yorkshire as a background for Mal and Jackie’s investigation worked perfectly. Maaaybe I would have liked a bit more sense about the city itself, but I loved the details about the Blades Edge, where the bigger part of the novel is set. The rundown estate, the forest surrounding the place, the inner city locations, it all perfectly gave back this creepy, ominous feeling you have while reading/watching thrillers or real crim docu shows. Paired with RJ Dark‘s writing and skillful characterization, I felt right there as I was reading.
Writing and pacing: A Numbers Game is a relatively short book with less than 300 pages and events are happening within a week, so it’s fair to say that it’s pretty fast-paced. There is plenty of action, the characters are constantly moving – or at least seems like it – but it doesn’t feel too much. You don’t feel rushed or that things are happening too fast. It’s perfectly balanced with dialogues and quiet moments where we can get to know the characters better.
Characters: Talking of. I loved Mal and Jackie’s pair. Their friendship which I suspect has way more depth than it was shown within these pages. Honestly, I wanted more. I liked Mal from the first moment but it took me a while to get around to Jackie. And I’m still not quite sure I pinned down his personality. Where RJ Dark‘s writing really shines is in the side characters. In the first 20% or so all these people keep coming and normally it would be a bit hard to keep track, but they are all so indistinctive that it’s absolutely not an issue. Be it Trolley Mick, Russian Frank, Beryl (oh, Beryl, she is definitely something!), or Janine just to name a few. Most of the characters aren’t nice people and it’s still a joy to follow them on the paper – or screen.
‘I am going to break every one of your fucking fingers, lad,’ Billy said.
I had no reason to doubt him, and the thought of it made me feel like throwing up. Maybe if I vomited on him, it would scare him away. I’d heard that worked for seagulls.
Plot: Well, obviously, I’m not going to talk about this too much, but A Numbers Game has a nice few twists that’ll keep you guessing until the end. The base conflict is pretty simple – dead man, lost lottery ticket, everyone wants it for their own reasons. I had my suspicions along the way, but I was pleased that it managed to surprise me, and really, what else can you ask for when it comes to a mystery?
Dialogue: So, this is a minor thing, but I have this pet peeve of mine… It drives me crazy when characters name each other constantly in dialogue. I seem to have this issue mostly with British authors though, or so I noticed. It’s not such a bad thing per se, but it always takes me off the flow after a while.
Length: It was just way too damn short.
And The (Ugly) Truth
A Numbers Game came to me in a time when I literally craved to read a Mystery/Thriller novel, and it definitely filled up that hole. It reminded me why I fell in love with the genre in the first place. And it left me craving more. A Numbers Game has everything you can ask for: great characters just short of walking off the pages, twists, treachery, a murder mystery, fast cars, and a good dose of blood and pain just to make it interesting. A book that gives just as much joy to the reader as it gave to its author, because it’s pretty obvious from the first page, that RJ Dark had one hell of a time writing A Numbers Game and that comes through loud and clear. Impossible not to be swept away by Mal and the whole atmosphere.
A Numbers Game is a must read for every Mystery/Thriller fan. It should be illegal for someone to be so damned talented as RJ Barker/Dark is.