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:
Contest sounds like it’s got as much humor as it does suspense, and I admire writers who can do that. Your description made me think of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There’s the same premise of an ordinary guy caught up in an out-of-this-world situation. There’s a lot of humor in that one, too, and there’s the same focus away from unpronouncable names and “other world” details.
Good review, Bernadette, and you put your finger on one of the reasons I gave up on SciFi in my teens – all that intricate detail (and funny names, as you say!) with very little engagement with the characters.
I have to admit “Contest” does sound like a tempting book as you describe it – especially as I am in a bit of a crime-fiction lull at the moment, just can’t settle to anything. I do have one more Sjowall/Wahloo to go, so maybe I should pick that up as I am sure that will be good.
I am in awe of your one-word challenge but I am sure that you will manage it with effortless ease!
I like the extra feature to your challenge. Matthew Reilly is I think a remarkable author. I like the books despite myself. I haven’t read this one – maybe I should.
Oh I do feel sorry for your lull Maxine…I’ve been a bit hit and miss myself lately although have been doing well this week (partly in thanks to your good self).
As for one word titles I’d actually only worked out A, B, D and F before I rushed into things. I might have to go on holidays during the XYZ period!
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