Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
Head Game by Tim Downs
"...a well thought out story full of intricate details ... Downs raises the bar with this psychological thriller."
In the first Gulf War thousands of Iraqi soldiers surrendered after reading propaganda leaflets written and drawn by three men: Cale, Kirby, and Pug. 87,000 lives were saved—at least that’s the way those men and the U.S. government saw it.
Iraqi Colonel Hashim doesn’t see it that way. He considers the PsyOps trio his worst enemies. Because of them and their leaflets he was forced to abandon everything he’d ever held dear: his country, his sweetheart, but most importantly his honor. Fifteen years have passed, and it’s time for revenge. Carefully watching and waiting, Hashim knows the men like the back of his hand—and he knows how to hit them where it hurts.
Veteran Cale Caldwell is a successful ad agency wonderboy who’s storybook life couldn’t be better. He has the job, the house, the beautiful wife and daughter. But it all crumbles when his wife dies in a car accident. Her death leaves an aching hole in his heart, and his thirteen-year-old daughter hasn’t been the same since. What should draw father and daughter together is shoving them further and further apart. Clueless what to do, Cale isn’t prepared for tragedy to strike again. Or to be drawn into the most intense psychological battle of his career. At least in Iraq he was the one creating the head games, and he knew who his enemy was.
Downs put a lot of effort into giving his readers a literary experience. Head Game isn’t a fluffy action-adventure loaded with explosives and special effects---it’s a well-thought out story full of intricate details. Some of the backstory could have been woven into the plot better, but readers will come away with a deeper understanding of the history of the first Iraq war and Middle Eastern thought (the concepts of honor and revenge). And he doesn’t skimp on the novel’s end, either. He takes the time to make it satisfying.
Tim Downs is creating a mark for himself in suspense fiction, and Head Game is a solid, compelling entry in his bibliography. Closer to Plague Maker than his quirky “Bugman” novels (there isn’t a bug to be found in Head Game), Downs raises the bar with this psychological thriller. Right from the comic-esque prologue drawn by Downs himself, you know you’re in for something a little different.
One of the trademarks of a Tim Downs novel is his ability to immerse you in a world completely different from your own, and that tradition continues with Head Game. There wasn’t much to take away spiritually (even less than Plague Maker, which at least had at its core the theme of forgiveness), but that’s obviously not what Downs was going for with this story.
With a unique premise and several hit-you-between-the-eyes twists, Head Game has all the elements of a blockbuster. What will Downs come up with next?
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.