Book Reviews, Crime

Review: A Numbers Game by RJ Dark

One dead man and a missing lottery ticket.
Two family members who need that money to get away from the rundown Blades Edge estate.
Three local gangsters who want that money for themselves.

Meet Malachite Jones – the foremost (and only) psychic medium on the gritty Blades Edge estate. All he wants are two things: a name that isn’t ‘Malachite’, and a quiet life. And maybe some real psychic powers, but he’s making a living without them. Janine Stanbeck wants to find her dead husband Larry’s winning ticket and escape Blades Edge with her son. And she thinks Mal can help her.
But Larry’s dad is the crime lord of the estate, and he wants that ticket for himself, and worse for Mal, he’s not the only criminal with his eyes on it. Add in two coppers desperate to nick Mal’s best, only, and admittedly quite dangerous, friend, Jackie Singh Kattar, and Blades Edge is getting pretty crowded. Malachite Jones might not really be able to talk to the dead, but if he and his friend Jackie Singh Kattar can’t find that money and a solution that pleases everyone they’re likely to be in need of a psychic medium themselves.

The first Mal Jones and Jackie Singh Kattar adventure: a chaotic rollercoaster ride through a Yorkshire landscape full of double crossing friends, dogged police, psychotic gangster and voices from the other side.

Thank you to NetGalley and Wavesback for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

This is an explosive (sometimes literally) crime debut by RJ Dark – also known as RJ Barker, who I feel like I mention every other blog post because his books are incredible… anyway, where was I? Oh yes, A Numbers Game by RJ Dark is the first ‘Mal & Jackie’ novel, and I, for one, cannot wait for the next one. Going into it, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d find it, because when I read crime I tend to like it a bit cosier, and I was worried some of the references might go over my head. I needn’t have worried though. With the first page, I was sucked in.

‘The week started unseasonably warm for spring and with my best friend sitting on top of me, threatening violence. From there it only went downhill. But that’s what it’s like when you deal with the dead; sometimes it feels like all they want is for you to join them.’

Mal and Jackie feel as if they step right off the page and into your room, I felt as if I was watching them rather than reading about them. I usually take notes as I read books, especially when I know I’ll be reviewing them, but for A Numbers Game I just let the story carry me forward, fascinated by it all. As you might have read in the blurb, the premise of the story is that Larry Stanbeck, son of the biggest gangster on the estate, has died in a motorbike accident, and the lottery ticket he had won but not cashed in went missing. His wife wants to find it to get her and her son out of Blade’s Edge, and Larry’s father Mick wants the money for his operations. Add to that the Russian mafia and the police trying to frame someone for increasing violence, and poor Mal can’t go two steps outside his house without someone threatening him.

Mal – aka Malachite Jones (but please don’t call him that) – is a psychic medium who provides comfort to his clients by telling them what they need to hear about their deceased loved ones. He’s a really interesting character, with a solid quietness to him. He’s the point of view character, and I think he’s the perfect viewpoint into the world of Blade’s Edge, as he grew up there and is a product of it, but has distanced himself somewhat from it. Jackie is the loud to Mal’s quiet – boisterous, always wearing extremely colourful outfits, driving expensive cars. He’s an ex-army man with his fingers in many different pies, and he provides protection for Mal’s neighbourhood, for a fee. For all his violent impulses and strong will, Jackie is kind, and complex. I can’t wait to see their next adventure.

What I really enjoyed about the story, apart from the vivid characters and gritty humour, was the puzzle. Seems a bit obvious, for a crime book, but some mysteries are more satisfying to unravel than others, and I have to say this one was a treat. As the reader, I felt very much like Mal for most of the book, as he scrabbles to make sense of all the disparate threads he’s uncovered, trying to see a bigger picture, and towards the end there was one twist I definitely didn’t see coming, and one that I had anticipated, and both were very satisfying to read.

I can’t recommend A Numbers Game enough, it’s a fun ride, and a quick read (unless, like me, you’re reading it during a house-move). Dark’s style of writing is simple, yet full of little bursts of sentences that gave me pause; this, combined with the excellent character work, compelling mystery, and fast-paced feel made me sprint through it, picking it up whenever I had a spare moment to see what would happen. It’s quite addicting really, so RJ, if you’re reading this, feel free to send me book two! As for book one, truly excellent! It’s been out for a few days now, so you should definitely give it a read.

Book Info

Published: 4th June 2021 by Wavesback
Genre: Crime
Pages: 283
Series: Mal & Jackie, book one
Narration style: first person past tense, single narrator
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: no
Trigger Warnings: violence, torture, blood, death, addiction, car accident, domestic abuse, kidnapping

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