This week’s entry into the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme concerns Australian author Matthew Reilly‘s first novel: Contest which was published in this version in 2000 and I read in 2001. I’m not even sure it qualifies for the genre but I tend to think of crime and thrillers as vaguely on the same spectrum and I do like a jolly good romp every now and again.
Widower and radiologist Steven Swain is relaxing at his Long Island home one afternoon when he is selected by aliens to represent Earth in an intergalactic game which is played every thousand years. The good news is he will have a home turf advantage (the game will take place in the New York City public library) but the bad news is it’s a game played to the death. And Swain’s 11-year-old daughter Holly is along for the ride. Swain is transported to the library and has the game rules speedily explained to him and is introduced to his guide Selexin before being thrust into a contest of wits, cunning and luck.
What I like about Contest is that although it has a far-fetched premise it doesn’t get lost in the ‘other world’ details that can so often happen with this kind of story. Basically it’s a ‘normal guy gets caught up in an abnormal situation’ kind of thriller and you don’t need to learn a new language or be able to faithfully recite a list of names with no consonants to enjoy it. It’s the story of a loving father trying to get himself and his daughter out of a mess not of their making and the cheating aliens and other nasty surprises could just as easily be gangsters with guns or spies with poison darts as in more conventional thrillers. The book rollicks along at a cracking pace and there’s a good deal of humour scattered throughout to add to the enjoyment. There’s not a load of character development or pensive, introspective moments but if you go looking for those in a thriller you’re almost always going to be disappointed.
It’s well known in Australia that this book, Reilly’s first, was rejected by every publisher in the country so he published it himself. This perseverance earned him some publicity and he then scored a publishing deal for his first Shane Schofield (a.k.a. Scarecrow) action adventure Ice Station which became a best seller. There have since been three more novels featuring Scarecrow, a separate series featuring Jack West Jr (the third of these, The Five Greatest Warriors, will be released tomorrow here in Australia) and several standalone novels. All the Reilly books that I’ve read are jam-packed with action and make particularly good audio-books if you like that kind of thing.
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I’ve decided to add an extra challenge to my posts in this series by attempting to make all 26 about books I read prior to starting this blog that only have one word titles. So far, so good: