cover image Small Game

Small Game

Blair Braverman. Ecco, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-306617-5

Braverman’s spellbinding debut follows a cast of five as they film an ill-fated survival-reality series called Civilization. Mara works as an instructor at a survival-style camping school, which comes easily to her after having been raised by prepper parents. She joins Civilization hoping the prize money will improve her life. Her fellow cast members, all handpicked by the show’s producers for their archetypal value, include gorgeous, inexperienced Ashley, who wants to be famous; validation-seeking Eagle Scout Kyle; gruff carpenter Bullfrog, who hopes his estranged daughter will see him on TV; and James, who books it soon after filming begins at the show’s unidentified wilderness location. Clashes with insecure Kyle ensue, though Mara doesn’t anticipate falling for Ashley, whose sweet demeanor has a dark side. Mara also surreptitiously accepts food from Tom, a crew member who takes a shine to her. Braverman does a good job demonstrating how Mara’s expertise is constantly undermined by touchy would-be survivalists both on and off the show, and how the cast members’ relationships change once things get real and the crew mysteriously disappears. With danger setting in, the author keeps up a terrific sense of suspense about whether the crew’s abandonment is intentional. Like the best TV, readers won’t want this to end. (Nov.)