Review: Guess Who by Chris McGeorge

“Today, we are going to be playing a little game of Murder.”

36162116★★★½

Opening Hook: Basically a classic Kesha song

Main Character: If Maury and Robert Stack had a baby, but that baby was drunk all the time

Plot Twisty-ness: Jigsaw would be proud


I went into this novel with every intention of loving it completely. I swear to Thor. But okay, obviously I didn’t completely get there. Story of my life. No one is shocked.

Guess Who started off as a five-star read until I passed the halfway mark and that’s when things fell off the chart. For the first half of the book, it is very much SAW meets Clue, just minus the horror element. But it does create a sinister, frantic pace and tone that definitely had me hooked. It’s a locked-room mystery that feels both extravagant and desperate at first, at that definitely worked for me in a totally non-sexual sexual way.

Morgan Sheppard is a TV star who has made a living doing a Maury meets Unsolved Mysteries-style show called Resident Detective. As a child, he solved the murder of his math teacher and created a very successful career riding (read: exploiting) that wave. Through his fame, he’s turned into an alcoholic, drug addict and womanizer. The only problem is, Sheppard has been full of shit for a very long time. And someone knows it. And someone hates him.

This villain, known as The Evil Man who wears a goofy fucking horse mask, and locks Sheppard and five other people in a hotel room with a dead body in the bathtub. Sheppard has 3 hours to find the killer – one of the people in the room – and prove what kind of detective he really is, or the hotel blows up.

dramatic boy meets world GIF

So here’s the thing – I love locked-room mysteries. It takes your typical mystery, turns it into a microcosm and increases the mistrust and paranoia by 100%. You can either have something that feels like real life with a narrow focus. Or you can have something that is wild and kind of ridiculous that feels removed from real life. Both of these approaches up the “fun” element of a typical mystery and it’s why I like this sub-genre so much.

The problem with Guess Who is that it tries to be both.

Like I said at the top, the first half of the book was leading me to a soft five-star rating. It was wild and crazy and totally removed from real life. Although I could have done without that goddamn horse mask. Ridiculous does not need to equal silly.

The second half of the book tried too hard to ground the novel in reality. The flashback chapters to Morgan as a child and the murder of his math teacher felt quiet, dragging down the pace and the emotions that were amped up previously. Sometimes I was a little bored even. The identity of The Evil Man was clear after this, but still, we had to wait for Sheppard to figure it out and it started to feel like he wasn’t just a bad detective, but also kind of stupid. And really, that was just a fault of the plotting and not necessarily of the characterization.

Then you get to the part where all the fantastical elements of how The Evil Man pulled off what he pulled off are revealed. And this again, tried way too hard to make things seem plausible or logical, instead of playing up the ridiculous, flashy aspects. Explanations were offered up that were long and required so much dialogue that it started to feel like a silly cartoon villain dropping into a monologue where he explains his own genius to his captive prey.

the incredibles disney GIF

Explaining for five paragraphs how you, as a villain, managed to make so much money so that you could afford your grandiose evil plan, takes the fun out of it. A simple, “The stocks are boring when you are so good at them,” would have been enough. Explaining how you managed to do what you did with the hotel room and how you got all these people there, doesn’t make it more impressive it makes it less believable. Again, ridiculous to silly.

I don’t need to know all the details because it dispels the magic that exists on its own in within that sinister mystery.

If less time had been given to explaining how this was pulled off, and more time spent on the emotional reasons why someone would be driven to mastermind such an event, I would have found the second half of the book much more satisfying. But as it was, the author tried so hard to ground this ridiculous, exaggerated plot – that would literally never happen in real life – into reality, that instead of keeping up that wild tone, it ended up taking itself too seriously.

Even still, it was a good read. Not great, even though it could have been, but good. The plot is complex, though the Evil Man is knowable a little earlier than I think the author might have intended. The characters don’t have much depth, but they are uniquely drawn and therefore you get a pretty good idea of who they are, just enough to extend the mystery of the killer for the reader.

I liked the main character of Morgan Sheppard. The contrast of the real him – a self-hating liar who is going through withdrawal from addiction in this dire situation –  against the idea of who he is – some successful, smart TV star – added a new layer to the novel outside of the complex plot. And though he isn’t likable, there is something human about Sheppard that makes his quest for redemption engaging and hopeful.

Overall, this is rough around the edges, but for a first novel it’s a good effort and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up McGeorge’s next novel.

PS. To my American friends: VOTE ON TUESDAY FUCKERS.


Untitled

A debut thriller that offers a fresh, modern twist on the classic “locked room” mystery novel, for readers of Noah Hawley and Jeffery Deaver

The rules are simple.

But the game is not.

At eleven years old, Morgan Sheppard solved the murder of a teacher when everyone else believed it to be a suicide. The publicity surrounding the case laid the foundation for his reputation as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. He parlayed that fame into a gig as TV’s “resident detective,” solving the more typical tawdry daytime talk show mysteries like “Who is the father?” and “Is he cheating?”

Until, that is, Sheppard wakes up handcuffed to a bed in an unfamiliar hotel room. Around him, five strangers are slowly waking up, as well. Soon they discover a corpse in the bathtub and Sheppard is challenged to put his deductive skills to the test. One of the people in the room is the killer. He has three hours to solve the murder. If he doesn’t find the killer, they all will die.

An ingenious, page-turning debut, Chris McGeorge’s Guess Who matches the high-wire plotting of classic “locked room” mysteries into the unstoppable pacing of the modern-day thriller.

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OPENING HOOK: Basically a classic Kesha song MAIN CHARACTER: If Maury and Robert Stack had a baby and that baby was drunk all the time PLOT TWISTY-NESS: Jigsaw would be proud 🌟🌟🌟💫 ____ I really want to like this, you guys. Honest to Thor. But let's be honest, no one is shocked at my rating. This was a 5-star read for me up until the halfway mark. The first half of the book was very much SAW meets CLUE and I totally dug the sinister, frantic pace and tone. It's a locked-room mystery that feels both extravagant and ridiculous. One fake detective. One dead body. Five suspects. 3 hours to find the killer or a hotel blows up. Dun-dun-dunnnnn! I LOVE locked-room mysteries. You take the typical, create a microcosm and dial up the paranoia to 11. You can go one of two ways: either something that feels like real life with a narrow focus. Or something that is wild and ridiculous and wouldn't happen in real life. Either option ups the "fun" element of the typical mystery. The problem with Guess Who is that is tries to do both. The first half was wild and ridiculous. But the second half tried too hard to ground the novel in reality and logic, resulting in cartoonish monologues of revealed information and a dispelling of the magic of what the Evil Man pulled off – making it seem silly in its unbelievability not impressive. I did like the main character. Though unlikable, the contrast of who is really is vs who people think he is added an emotional layer to the complex plot. And his quest for redemption was both engaging and hopeful. It was a good read, but not as good as it could have been. Full review on my blog 💻 #books #bibliophile #bookworm #booklover #booknerd #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookblogger #bookreview #bookblog #crimefiction #mystery #thriller #suspense #booksofinstagram #bookgeek #goodreads #bookphotography #horror #fiction #read #bookishcanadians #bookish #igreads #bookaddict #instabooks

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7 thoughts on “Review: Guess Who by Chris McGeorge

  1. It’s such a disappointment when books squander all their potential in the second-half, it happens way more often than I would like. I can deal with a soggy middle, but when the whole thing does tits up in the second half it’s just impossible to course correct, even with an amazing ending, or just by remembering how good the beginning was.
    It’s really a shame because I love locked room mysteries as well, I think I like them even better as movies though. If a movie has zero budget and is shot in a single room, chances are I’ll love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree that movies really lend themselves to locked-room storytelling. There’s a pace and emotional intensity that can be created by all the actors and shots that makes them so much fun to watch. The last one I saw was the remake of Murder on the Orient Express. Even my husband liked it and he’s not a mystery fan.

      Liked by 1 person

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