Let’s Play Murder (Kesia Lupo) – Book Review

“You’ll know it by the snow.”

The message appears as the virtual calling card of The Game, the most black market of black market virtual-reality games in Kesia Lupo’s Let’s Play Murder, a twisting YA whodunnit that pits five youngsters against one another in an attempt to solve a fictional murder and escape an incredibly real threat. Pitched as something akin to a lost Black Mirror episode, it proves an inventive if not wholly successful mystery story for 2023.

Let’s Play Murder follows main character Veronica, a withdrawn teenager with a troubled, dark family past and the ghost of her stepsister Em, who mysteriously died in a VR game, figuratively and perhaps literally, hanging over her head. She’s an unwilling entrant to The Game, joined by four more competitors, all seeking The Game’s ultimate goal of life-changing wealth, and are tasked with solving the simulated murder of a rich Golden Age-era patriarch.

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The quintet of young adults sucked into the game are archetypes – nerdy Veronica, mean posh girl Charlie, troubled jock Aaron, mysterious Nate, and the friendly Yasmin – and while they don’t get the amount of fleshing out one would prefer when dealing with a closed-circle mystery, it’s pleasing to see a diverse group of participants pulled from across the globe, particularly Veronica as a source of all-too-rare disability representation in YA media.

The strength of the novel lies within its blend of genres, and really works to the novel’s favour – simultaneously the reader is balancing a Golden Age whodunnit, a dark technothriller, and at times a chilling horror about grief and loss. If you were to pigeonhole it, you could argue that Let’s Play Murder is a cross between The Matrix, Cube, and a classic Agatha Christie novel, or that it owes some of its murder-mystery inventiveness to novels such as Stuart Turton’s The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Despite these comparisons, Let’s Play Murder does enough neat tricks with its narrative to more than standout on its own.

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Some weaknesses do abound in Lupo’s novel. The characters are sketched out in broad, shallow strokes, with anyone outside of Veronica lacking the nuance or depth of a stronger character. The novel’s conclusion leaves several big questions unanswered by the turn of the final page that will mildly infuriate even the most undemanding mystery reader. Ultimately, however, Let’s Play Murder is largely a fun, snappily-paced thrill-ride of a book that will satisfy anyone looking for a complex YA murder mystery that goes for the big swings and mostly sticks the landing.

Let’s Play Murder is out on 13th April from Bloomsbury YA.

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