The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay | Review

Posted August 1, 2016 by Tara in Review /// 4 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay | ReviewKiller Game by Kirsty McKay
Series: standalone
Published by Chicken House on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 352
Format: E-book, ARC
Source: ARC from Edelweiss

At Cate's isolated boarding school, Killer Game is a tradition. Only a select few are invited to play. They must avoid being killed by a series of thrilling pranks, and identify the murderer. But this time, it's different: the game stops feeling fake and starts getting dangerous and Cate's the next target. Can they find the culprit ... before it's too late?

Did you ever play murder as kid? It used to be one of my favorite games that we would play in church youth group. We’d pass out playing cards, and the person who got the queen of spades was the secret murder. Everyone would scatter throughout the Sunday School classrooms, and we’d start walking around and shaking hands. The murderer had a special handshake, which involved rubbing the index finger on the inside of the victim’s palm. The victim then had to shake three more hands before he or she could fall over, faking a dramatic death. Then the group got to guess whodunnit. If they guessed correctly, the murderer lost. If they didn’t, the murderer lived on for another round. Of course, there are variations of this game (at Girl Scout camp, we called it Wink and played by winking), but the “scatter around and see who dies” version was always my favorite.

The Assassin Game is about a boarding school that takes this game on in the large scale. The kids who play are in a secret society, chosen by being dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and forced to experience an initiation process before being admitted to the club. There’s a secret hideout in a cave on the beach, a high-tech website for tracking the action, and a lot of creativity in the theatrical fake “kills” that the mystery murderer carries out over the course of several weeks. This premise sounded like the exact kind of mischievous fun that boarding school kids get to experience, and I was so excited to read this book.

This novel is a fun thriller that got a bit darker than I expected, even after reading the blurb. I read some reviews that were miffed by the fact that the danger was not as serious as anticipated, so I expected this to be tame…but it definitely got to points where the danger was real. Instead of playing the game as intended, the murderer actually ends up hurting people. After a few incidents, Cate (our main character) begins to believe that the murderer is actually out to get her. Everyone seems like a suspect, including Cate’s childhood friend Vaughn, her best friend Monica, her former friend Daniel, and her ex-crush Alex.

However, the whole thing was also just a smidge ridiculous and wholly unbelievable. It’s really hard to write teens into thriller novels because their lives are just too controlled by adults AND because I just don’t buy that 16 year olds are capable of such calculated, complex plotting (okay, so I have this problem in adult thrillers, too). I also did not buy the motive, or the cop-out motivation of “well, that might seems like an insignificant reason to want to do this, but…s/he’s clearly a sociopath.” Ugh.

I do have to note that one scene in the novel — an attempted sexual assault — was not handled particularly well. While it may have been handle realistically, I did not like the message the story sent about how to handle complex situations of unwanted and forced sexual actions between friends. It wasn’t the *worst* of such scenes that I’ve read in a book, but the overall depiction was definitely problematic. In addition, there was a LOT of slut-shaming in this book. I know this happens all the time, but this aspect was being used by the author to help set up motive and I just wished she had chosen a more sophisticated route to setting up the story.


I do still enjoy the twists and thrills of a good whodunnit thriller, and I did enjoy the general story. The flaws of the novel are the flaws of thrillers in general written for this age, so I still have to appreciate the author’s attempts to add something to this genre. Overall, this is a case of a fun book that would NEVER happen in real life. YA thrillers are hard to pull off well because teens just don’t have the time/money/freedom to be good villains/victims in these types of stories. In this case, though, it was also the thin characterization and slut-shaming-as-plot-device that kept the story from a higher rating from me.


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

Tags: , /// 4 Comments

4 responses to “The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay | Review

  1. Lately, I have been craving a good thriller/paranormal read. Any suggestions? What are some of your favorites? I’m open to reading YA or Adult…really just about anything! Excited for all your reviews coming up again!

    • My favorites are James Patterson’s adult novels (though many people hate them!), The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, and Dan Brown’s book. But my heart is always with female psychological thrillers — pretty much everything on this Goodreads list:

      I’ve got Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, You by Carolina Kepnes, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker in my immediate TBR pile — and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Tana French’s novels (I’m buying those next!)

Leave a Reply