Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Dead Close to Reality by Jennifer Bull

A tense, physical plot in a well-paced read

Dead Close to Reality is the story of Cora Winters, computer geek, and her attempts to unravel several mysterious deaths connected to a high-tech, virtual reality game.  In a generally well-paced story, somewhat grittier than a typical YA mystery/thriller, she battles virtual as well has real enemies in a constantly shifting landscape of friend and foe, dead and alive.

Dead Close to Reality bears many of the hallmarks of a YA mystery/thriller, e.g., young protagonist, largely missing or ineffectual adults (unless they are villains of course), little or no sex.  But this book goes a bit farther on violence than I consider typical.  That’s not to say it was graphic, but violence was frequent and often intense.  If you’re looking for a somewhat more ‘physical’ YA yarn, this one will fit nicely.

The pacing was good, although the author did repeat some themes a bit much.  Cora’s complaints about a ‘nuisance’ male friend, Derek, was an example.  But overall, the story flowed well and held my attention to the end.  As for character development, Cora represented a strong, intelligent, and independent female, all great qualities.  But there is a fine line between strong and headstrong for no reason, and Cora’s unwillingness to trust anyone became somewhat tedious.  If her self-reliance had succeeded, it might have made more sense.  But the author used frequent reversals of fortune to keep tension high, making me wish Cora had used more of her intellect to discover her real friends and develop better plans.  She was likeable as seat-of-the-pants gutsy and tough, but not much of a tactician or strategist.

The main factor that kept me from becoming fully immersed, however, was the lack of attention to making the story seem real, or at least near-future real, rather than just ignoring implausibility for plot convenience.  There was something like a half-dozen deaths connected to the game, but there was no public outcry.  There was no media frenzy.  There was hardly any police presence.  And at one point, 20-30 people were being held against their will in a cave, but an individual connected with law enforcement told Cora she had to hang on until he could get enough evidence for a conviction.  Huh?  Simply put, the story lacked the confluence of tragic coincidence or unforeseen circumstances that the best authors find to tie your stomach in a knot, rather than make you scratch your head.

Overall, the story has some holes and a heroine that could often use her smarts to better effect, but it’s still a tense, physical plot in a well-paced read.

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