March 02, 2013

Sandra Scoppettone: "Playing Murder"

Title: Playing Murder [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sandra Scoppettone [Blog | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 1985
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Easy to follow. Nice, well-drawn setting. Lead has a pleasant voice.
Cons: Many themes are touched but not analysed. Characters are mostly sketched, though not total stereotypes.
Will appeal to: Mystery lovers who don't mind an old-fashioned story. Fans of sibling rivalry tales.

Blurb: When one of the players in a murder game is killed, seventeen-year-old Anna and her twin brother realize that their circle of friends may conceal a real murderer. (Amazon)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version. 
Since the above blurb is really lacking, here is a short recap of this novel. Seventeen year old Anna (the lead) and her family move to a small town in Maine, after Bill (Anna's twin) stole some money at school because he wasn't able to deal with his own problems. Despite having a boyfriend (Tony) at home, Anna falls for the popular boy, Kirk, whose family helps running a restaurant owned by her parents. When Kirk is killed during a game, Bill is charged with murder, and Anna tries to clear his name, opening a whole can of worms in the process.
I decided to buy this book after reading Trying Hard to Hear You from the same author - which I loved. Also, that novel was even older than this one, and still managed to be great IMHO. But unlike his predecessor, Playing Murder, while a pleasant little read, suffers from old age. My biggest peeve against the book is the fact that it touches many themes - from teen angst to sibling rivalry to domestic abuse - without examining any of them in depth. We sympathise with Bill because he made a mistake out of teen angst, and now he has to bring the stigma. We sympathise with Anna, who is mad at him for said mistake, especially because it is the main reason for their family to relocate. We sympathise with another character that I won't name (no-spoiler policy) for being abused from a very close person. But none of these issues is actually brought to the next level - mostly, they are touched but not delved upon. [...]

Anna is a nice lead, but a bit harum-scarum. Evidence N. 1: she falls in love with Kirk despite the fact that he already has a girlfriend (and she's supposed to be with Tony), and isn't able to keep a distance. Evidence N. 2: when Tony shows up the very night of Kirk's murder, and later confronts her about her feelings for the dead boy, Anna fears that Tony may have killed Kirk out of jealousy, and begins to see him as a potentially dangerous character. And he may sure be, given his attitude - but Anna can't seem to make up her mind about it, and to discern a possessive, potentially violent behaviour from a romantic one. (Note: later in the book, Anna changes her mind again about Tony. Like, totally. So much for the potential killer theory. I mean, can you suspect someone of murder and then simply go back to nurture tender feelings about said person?). Evidence N. 3: she gets into deep trouble for trying to play detective in order to clear her brother's name  - and though this is the very core of the story, it's still stupid that she does it all alone. OK, she doesn't trust anybody - but still, bring cover, for goodness sake. Or rather, bring Bill himself, now that he's out of prison!
The mystery part may be easy to figure out - I really don't know, because I wasn't so invested in the story that I bothered with the whodunnit. The best parts of the book, in my opinion, are the setting descriptions. It does feel like you're visiting all the places the novel brings you to. 
The 2 stars here are a bit unlike the 2 stars I recently gave to Take a Bow. I mean, there's a different background to them. Because this book was written way before teen lit got deep and sophisticated, I can somehow forgive its candor - though this doesn't prevent me from wanting more than that. But with TAB, it's not like I can find a valid excuse for the fluffiness and the of-courseness (LOL, I love my own neologism. See review for reference...). So, in short - and back to Playing Murder - if you like a pleasant little vintage read with small romance and a murder to solve, all peppered with some nice visuals, go for it.

For more Thriller books click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Diane Hoh: "Funhouse".

Alternate cover (still old style)


  1. I like how you analyzed the book. Really good review.
    I nominated you for a Liebster blog award, check out the details:

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and for nominating me...I'm sorry I have never made it clear this is an award free blog though :(. I'm still fairly new at this, so please bear with me. Your award will be acknowledged on my next post anyway. Thanks again!


Welcome to Offbeat YA! I love hearing from you and always - I mean always - acknowledge your comments. This used to be a full democracy place, because anyone could comment, regardless of being a registered member of any community. Unfortunately, I had to turn off the Anonymous comment option, because I was getting too much spam that didn't get filtered. So, you’ll need to have a Google account (Gmail will suffice) in order to comment. Sorry about that. Anyway, jump right in! Come on, you know you want to...😉 And be sure to leave a link!
BTW...I don't care if a post is a million months old - you comment, I respond. And you make my day 😃.
Note: this is an award/tag free blog. Sorry I can't accept nominations due to lack of time.

As per the GDPR guidelines, here's the link to my Privacy Policy.