A Numbers Game by RJ Dark

There’s a certain way I like to have my crime novels. I like there to be a bit of a laugh. I like seeing teams at work. I like it when they make a point of showing a small world, not just the pursuit of one crime. As such, I liked RJ Dark’s A Numbers Game. Did from the moment I heard of it really.

Although I have to admit I also liked the opportunity to egg on the twitter feud between RJ Dark and the nefarious RJ Barker. Or is it the nefarious RJ Dark taking on good egg RJ Barker? I can never quite remember.

Expect a certain amount of confusion over who’s nefarious in A Numbers Game too. Mal Jones, our protagonist and narrator, is a little nefarious himself. He’s a mostly good hearted lad who’s set up himself up in business as a medium, a con he keeps going through reading people and the help of his assistant, the cantankerous and mysterious Beryl. He’s also got Jackie Singh Kattar in his corner; libertine, gangster, maniac. It’s Jackie who gets the ball rolling here when he sends Janine, the recently bereaved daughter in law of a local crime boss, in for some help.

Needless to say, it’s Mal who’ll need the help.

I’ve dwelled on the characters because they’re the best part of the book. There’s a big crowd in this book but each and every one of them stands out in their own way, and brings a bit of joy when they appear. They’re larger than life but stop short of being so large they make things feel unrealistic. I could probably read a book of them doing nothing while Mal narrates their presence nervously.

That’s not to say they do nothing, or that there’s any bad parts of the book. I have to say I found A Numbers Game started slow for me but once it got going, I read it quickly and felt mildly grumpy about doing things other than reading it. Dark brings this world to life and times his revelations about the nature of the plot well.

If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that Mal finds himself in the hands of villainous types threatening bad things a lot, and events get him free every time. It makes A Numbers Game feel a bit monotonous when it happens with high frequency – it’s part of why I found it a slow starter – and also maybe confused the tone of the book for me a little. Mal always escaping intact makes the eventual pain we see meted out to other characters seem out of place, a sudden trip from the almost cozy to something far more hard-edged.

That’s a small thing when weighing all the enjoyment I got from A Numbers Game. In fact, I have to give it my highest praise; the next Mal and Jackie book will be an auto-buy. I highly recommend giving it a shot yourself.

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