Game of Death, by David Hosp

Eight stars

Tapping into areas some may consider taboo, Hosp pens a one-off that will keep readers squirming. While living in a Boston suburb, Nick Caldwell has found his niche working for NextLife, a company that offers the complete online smorgasbord for any social media addict. Buried within the site is Lifescenes, something that not only differentiates it from its competitors, but also allows users to shed their inhibitions. In LifeScenes, users can enter a virtual reality and live out their every fantasy, no matter its construct. As avatars roam freely at the whim of each user, Nick heads up the ‘GhostWalking’ aspect of LifeScenes, a group of people who invisibly penetrate into these fantasies as they play out to determine what tweaks might make the system run more smoothly or what new technologies might be integrated to better the personal experience. While working one night, he trips upon a user who is involved in a bondage scenario which pushes past the simple aspect of control and into the domain of murder. He cannot shake the scene before him, even though it is fictionalised. When one of his employees, Yvette, reports a similar experience on a GhostWalk, they compare notes and realise it is the same user, De Sade. When a murder parallels the fantasy Yvette witnessed, down to the fact that the murdered woman bears a striking resemblance to the killed avatar, she and Nick take notice. Approaching the authorities, Nick tries to sell the case, but without being able to penetrate the strong encryption on NextLife, there is little than can be done. When another woman is murdered, Boston Police make an interesting connection. Things get even more interesting as Nick joins the investigation and is threatened unless he backs off. Yvette works her back channels and may have found a way to piece together some of De Sade’s fantasies to a company computer. As a suspect emerges, another murder derails all the work that’s been done, but it is a matter of time before more bondage killings occur. However, when dealing with virtual reality, nothing is quite as it seems and the case takes an ominous twist. Hosp offers readers a thrilling look into the darker aspects of personal fantasies that only a 21st century Marquis de Sade could love. A must-read for those who need something to keep them up (reading) well into the night.

As with many of his previous novels, David Hosp pulls readers in with a great set of characters that interact effectively and a backdrop in Boston that never fails to impress. Nick’s backstory alone offers up much for the reader, as though his lifelong association with Charlestown should be the subject of a collection of stories all their own. However, within Nick’s development lies two areas of the novel on which Hosp pontificates, if only a in subtle way. First, sadomasochistic behaviour has a long history and is not something to be shunned or hidden away in the darkest parts of the human psyche, for its balance of control and domination appears in all aspects of life. Hosp explores this through a brief glimpse into the life of the Marquis de Sade, as well as some of the descriptors used to bring some of the LifeScenes into vivid reality, as well as offering a developed character who leads a somewhat placid life outside the domain. Secondly, virtual reality, fictitious as it may seem on the surface, has a way of pulling the individual into it and creating a reality that is, perhaps, more natural for some than the life they live. Mixing the two allows those who harbour secret fantasies about domination to play them out in the privacy of their own home while still enjoying the thrill. Hosp utilises these premises to fuel this book, though he injects a wonderful crime thriller to bind it all together. The end result is a darker but still highly entertaining novel that captivates the reader. There is so much to enjoy and to be disturbed about within the story, should the reader wish to interpret things in that way. Hosp goes so far as to use climactic moments (pardon the pun) to spin anti-climax in the story. Brilliant use of his research and written in such a way that the reader can almost feel themselves within the story, a literary virtual reality if you will. 

Kudos, Mr. Hosp for another great novel. You impress me in new ways each time I sit down to read your work.