The Blame Game
Grade : C+

The Blame Game is a book about boundaries: the boundaries in a marriage, the boundaries between a doctor and their patient, and the boundaries we’re willing to cross to protect what we consider ours.

Naomi has been in trouble before. She hates the rules that keep psychologists from offering actual help to their clients in need, and she’s crossed bounds in the past to provide physical aid to someone she thought deserved it. Which is why she is now running her own practice rather than working at a clinic. And why she is lying to her husband Leon and letting a patient use their cottage without his knowledge. Jacob, an unlikely victim of domestic abuse, just needs a place where he can hide from his wife and start over. Naomi sees no reason why she, as a therapist who happens to own a rental property, can’t provide that place. Even if Leon thinks that crosses lines and even if her profession severely frowns on such behaviors.

Then things start to go terribly wrong. Naomi’s office is broken into, Jacob’s file goes missing, then reappears in her house. Her aunt calls to tell her that her mother’s murderer has been released from prison. Her deeply troubled sister seems to be looking for her. Another client shows up on Naomi’s doorstep, wanting somewhere to stay. A drunken Jacob makes a pass at her. And then the police arrive.

The writing here is clear and descriptive and the structuring of the enigma surrounding Naomi is solid and straightforward. The pacing is excellent - I didn’t feel the narrative lagged at any point - and the mystery is intriguing. It centers less around what is happening than around who is causing it. Is Jacob a master manipulator who has somehow gotten Naomi caught up in a web of dangerous deceit? Is Naomi’s sister seeking vengeance for the past? Is what happened to Naomi’s mom being reenacted by her killer, with Naomi either being framed for the crime or being set up as the final victim? Is Leon, who has righteous cause to be angry, behind it all? I found this conundrum interesting because any/all of these scenarios are conceivable. Everyone is seen from Naomi’s point of view, whose unreliability makes their (possible) criminality plausible. She’s so focused on herself and the role she played in her mother’s death that she doesn’t always see the world as it is. At various points in the novel, that makes for a fascinating whodunit-and-why that captures the imagination of the reader despite the heroine’s often ill-advised bumbling.

Which leads me to my issues with this book. A lot of the thrills and chills of a mystery/suspense/thriller novel come from the idea that it could happen to you. The thought that the reader could find themselves meeting a dangerous, seductive person and be beguiled by them or that they could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time and find themselves amid a horrific mess not of their making is often what gives the story impetus. The Blame Game didn’t work that way for me, however. I didn’t feel a connection to the problems Naomi faces because I couldn’t imagine too many people being stupid enough to put themselves in that situation. I think I was meant to find Naomi a caring soul but instead, she comes across as careless and cavalier. It doesn’t take long for most psychiatrists and psychologists to figure out that the laws/ethics that separate them from doing more than being a concerned, conscientious guide for their clients exist for their protection. A drowning person, aka the client, will often pull their rescuer down with them. You have to be trained not just on how to get the victim out of the water but also on how to keep them from victimizing you along with them. I could write pages on this issue but my point is simple - the rules protect the vulnerable client and the provider. Naomi’s dismissal of these stipulations bugged me from the start, especially since it also involves treating her husband coldly and ignoring every ounce of input he gives. She invites people onto their property and into their home against his expressed wishes and then seems genuinely startled that it causes problems in their marriage.

Another quibble I had about Naomi and her practice might just be an American thing but I was confused as to how payments and taxes for her business work. At one point she tells Jacob, “I won’t take your money if you’re going to spend the hour imagining a relationship we don’t have.” At another, when she tells Leon she’s booked extra sessions with a client he says, “I suppose it’s all money in the bank.” A client says she’s been skimming money from the housekeeping to pay for her weekly sessions with Naomi (she must have a heck of a housekeeping budget because these appointments typically cost a fair amount.) So Naomi is doing paid work. She is in England, where the NHS doesn’t offer long-term therapies of this sort, meaning that her patients would be paying for her services from their own pockets or via their private health insurance.  But two of those clients conceal their identities from her – which made me wonder how she was actually being reimbursed?  Unless they’re paying cash – extremely unlikely – surely their names would be attached to the transactions, whether by credit or debit card or other means which would leave a paper trail? And in order to begin treatment, surely she’d have had to have checked ID and medical histories?  Even if the clients had presented fake IDs, they would, surely, have proven her innocence to the police?  These questions kept plaguing me as I read, and I had to wonder how Naomi was actually allowed to continue practicing when she doesn’t appear to be complying with the basic legal requirements around her job

That said, smooth prose, consistent characterization, and an interesting mystery make The Blame Game an easy-to-read story that is moderately enjoyable despite its foibles. Fans of the domestic thriller or anyone looking for a suspense novel with an emphasis on intrigue over violence/psychosis will probably like it.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : C+
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : August 29, 2022

Publication Date: 08/2022

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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