Fatal Game: Synopsis and Review

Fatal Game by Patricia Knutson  read by Book Club March 2014

blog by Cindy Bushey


            As winter refused to give up its grip on our mid-Atlantic area of the country in March, Zion’s readers found themselves gripped by the dilemma facing their March selection’s characters.  Fatal Game by Patricia Knutson carried our readers back to the 1970’s as a trio of boys entering their senior year in high school faced a situation to which there was no good solution.

            The author captured perfectly the sentiments, feelings, and tone of young men everywhere poised at the gates of adulthood, certain of their own immortality, conscious of the vast opportunities awaiting them, eager to make their mark in the world, yet immature enough to conceive a poorly designed scheme to frighten their classmates and lend spice to the summer nights before football practice demanded their attention.  Without giving too much away, this scheme involving a car turned deadly one night leaving an adult resident of the town dead on a lonely road.

            The shocked boys, who came from comfortable, rich, and wealthy backgrounds respectively, lost the remains of childhood innocence and were abruptly required to make decisions no teenager should have to confront.  They were appalled and physically sickened that their actions had made them murderers.  How to handle this?  They rapidly considered how the decision they made would affect them, their futures, and their families if they revealed that they had killed this poorly dressed, older black man lying in the road.  With the naivete of youth, they assumed he was “a bum”, and they decided to try to deal with their feelings and not tell anyone what they had done lest their prominent families be destroyed.

            Starting her story in the present and utilizing flashbacks, the author follows the boys through their senior year as they dealt with very real shock and anguish over their actions.  In the light of today’s knowledge, the boys struggled with post-traumatic stress and it colored their daily lives and senior year so much that they barely made it through to graduation.  How they supported each other, drew apart, graduated college and made professional lives for themselves is revealed gradually as our readers weighed the characters’ moral dilemma. 

            There were layers of moral choices, and our readers could not decide which was primary – putting someone in harm’s way with the car, lying by omission, covering up the scandal?  Since only one of the boys was driving at the time of the accident (and the author cleverly did not reveal which one), the two other boys had to make a conscious moral choice of whether to ‘fess up or cover up.  Our readers felt great empathy for them and realized this story was a terrific examination of the concept of loyalty as the boys chose to bond together for the rest of their lives. 

            The author developed her characters well, showing the similarities and differences in their backgrounds and how lack of parenting cannot be washed away with money.  Our readers wished there was more detail of the boys’ college years, marriages, children and how their relationships with them were affected by their decision constantly weighing on their minds.  One reader felt there was an absent character – that the book seemed to need a hard-bitten detective who would not have let go of this mysterious death.  Another suggested that sub-plots involving other characters would have strengthened the book.  Indeed, many of our readers questioned that no parent, school teacher, or coach made the connection between these obviously distraught students and the headlines in the paper.  High school boys’ interests being what they are, surely someone would have recognized the car.

             However, even with these reservations, all Zion’s readers enjoyed this story.  As the men, now in late middle age, were drawn together by the illness of one and had to rip off the scabs from their consciences and confront their actions again as they learned more about their victim, the tension for our readers continued.  There were still moral questions to deal with.  Although some readers felt the boys should have confessed and possibly gone to prison for their crime, what purpose would that have served?  All three of them became very productive, giving members of society and would not have been able to pursue their professions with a criminal background.  They never escaped the prison of their consciences and never would.  The author tidily wrapped up loose ends in a denouement which still left questions in our readers’ minds as to what the future held for these characters.

            In the interest of full disclosure, it must be revealed that Patricia Knutson is the mother-in-law of our own Pastor Kim and a very accomplished author with a diverse background.  Fatal Game is her third published novel and, while some of our readers liked one or the other of her first two novels better, all felt this story certainly presented more complex moral issues.  All her books have been very readable, and Zion’s readers wonder where in the world the author gets her ideas!  Seven of our readers gave this book one thumb up, and one reader remained neutral about it.  All of our readers look forward to Mrs. Knutson’s next novel and would definitely recommend all her books to other readers.