4 out of 4 stars
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When I spotted Murdered by James Schanepp as an option for review, I was intrigued. “Murdered is a mystery novel unlike any other… YOU are the main character,” the description reads. “It’s up to you to solve the case… Each link represents a choice, and the story evolves based on your decisions.” The concept reminded me of a role-playing video game, where you choose your decisions and dialogue choices based on pre-set options and the story then flows in whichever direction you choose. But how would the author be able to pull that off in a book format? I decided to give him a chance and give it a go.
My reaction after finishing the book? Schanepp does pull it off, and the experience is pretty darn cool.
The author drops you, the reader, into Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, four days before the famed Brazilian Carnival begins. You’re apparently here on vacation with your friends, but while walking Rio’s streets, enjoying the nightlife, you’ve gotten separated from them. You duck into a dark alley to catch your breath, and to your horror, you discover a woman’s body lying in a pool of blood. Beside her lies a snub-nosed revolver, and beside the revolver, scrawled in all capital letters, is a strange note saying, “PICK ME UP.” You, the hero of this mystery novel, are now faced with your first choice: Should you pick up the weapon or should you not? You have two hyperlinks to choose from (the book seems inherently designed to be read via an electronic device) and each link takes you to a different part of the book to continue the story based on the decision that you just made.
Without giving away any spoilers, the basic plot of Murdered is relatively simple—I understand why it would have to be, as the story has to branch off in so many different possible directions—but it is still well-structured and is quite entertaining. The author’s prose is clear and engaging and truly swept me away at times. His character descriptions are particularly vivid. For example, here is how he describes the appearance of the “Sugar King,” an opulently wealthy sugarcane plantation owner, when you first meet him, “You turn and see a large, middle-aged Brazilian man. Neither tall nor fat per se, but thick-limbed and possessing a sort of magnetic gravity you can’t quite place. His full face is clean-shaven and has deep creases where a stark smile now finds perch. His eyes are dark brown, with an intense intelligence.” Schanepp also clearly did a lot of research into Brazilian culture, wildlife, food, demographics, and tourist sites in order to make the novel more immersive.
However, there are a couple of things about this book that I think could be improved. One is that the novel, even though supposed to be a universally enjoyable role-playing experience, is pretty obviously geared towards male readers. Being hit on by a female cop and having the author describe the hero getting turned on by dancing women made the role-playing less immersive for me as a female. One character even specifically refers to you as a man. If the author had either been very clear about the fact that he envisions your character as male or if he had instead made his writing gender neutral, I think that would have been more enjoyable for readers. The second thing I didn’t love about the book is that the different choices you as the hero are given throughout the story are not particularly complex and basically follow two paths: 1) Reluctant hero, or 2) Reckless daredevil. I would’ve liked to see some more nuance there.
Overall, James Schannep’s role-playing mystery novel Murdered is very capably written and is one heck of a fun ride for readers. The multiple outcomes give the story a lot of re-readability. As well, I was very impressed with the editing throughout as I only found two grammar errors. My rating for this book is 4 out of 4 stars because despite the few issues that I have with it, I think that the excellent editing and the tightly-structured plot—plus the author’s ability to execute such a unique story format idea—make Murdered deserve a full four. Anyone who loves a good mystery and gets a kick out of role-playing games will enjoy this book, although I wouldn’t suggest that children read it because of the frequent swearing and the grisly subject matter.
As the book’s description reads, “What starts as an exotic vacation ends up as the opportunity of a lifetime… Choose wisely. No one is who they truly seem to be. Get MURDERED!”
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