ARC Review – Play the Fool

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Play the Fool by Lina Chern, which will be published tomorrow (March 28, 2023). Mystery isn’t a genre I read often, but I was intrigued by the synopsis and the inclusion of tarot in the story.

A cynical tarot card reader seeks to uncover the truth about her friend’s mysterious death in this delightfully clever whodunit.

For Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. After a failed attempt at adulting in Chicago, she’s back in the suburbs living a bit too close to her overbearing parents, jumping from one dead-end job to the next, and flipping through her tarot deck for guidance. Then along comes Marley.

Mysterious, worldly, and comfortable in her own skin, Marley takes a job at the mall where Katie peddles Russian tchotchkes. The two just get each other. Marley doesn’t try to fix Katie’s life or pretend to be someone she’s not, and Katie thinks that with Marley’s friendship she just might make it through this rough patch after all. So one day, having been encouraged by Marley to practice soothsaying, Katie reads tarot for someone who stumbles into her shop. But when she sneaks a glance at his phone, she finds more than just clairvoyant intel. She finds a photo. Of Marley. With a gunshot wound to the head.

The bottom falls out of Katie’s world. Her best friend is dead? Who killed her? She quickly realizes there are some things her tarot cards can’t foresee, and she must put her razor-sharp instincts to the ultimate test. But the truth has deadly consequences, and Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crossfire of a threat she never saw coming. Now Katie must use her street smarts and her inner Strength card to solve Marley’s murder–or risk losing everything.

***Thank you to Bantam for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I want to start off by saying that I think this is a solid murder mystery. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t really love it either. I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t feel the sense of urgency that I typically like to experience when reading a mystery/thriller. The mysteries I enjoy the most keep me on the edge of my seat begging to turn to the next page because I just have to figure out what is happening. This book started out with an interesting premise and a good setup in the beginning, but it ultimately just didn’t sustain the level of intensity I wanted. It didn’t help that I saw all of the twists coming from pretty early on in the book.

My favorite thing about the book was the main character. Katie was an absolute mess. She couldn’t hold a job, lived in squalor, and had no real plans for her life. She was super impulsive and just bounced from thing to thing. I was captivated by her hot mess of a life, and the main reason I kept reading was to find out what kind of disaster she would create for herself next. She did grow quite a bit, though, and learned a lot about herself from the things she experienced in the story. I also really loved how the use of tarot was weaved into the story through her character. She saw people and the world through the cards, and her instincts were fun to follow. I honestly wish the author had leaned even harder into the tarot/mystical aspect of the story, but I also liked the focus on how Katie had learned to pick up on clues and read people that way.

One of my biggest problems with the book was that I didn’t find much of it to be very believable. From the start, I questioned why Katie would react the way she did to the supposed death of someone she barely knew. I get the sentiment behind it. She didn’t really have any friends and thought she might finally have one in Marley, but it all just felt a bit too extreme of a reaction. Katie’s interactions with the police also didn’t seem very believable. As the story unwound, it just became more and more impossible for me to suspend my disbelief at some of the circumstances. Katie seemed to always get out of trouble easily even though she did some REALLY stupid stuff.

I also didn’t think there were many compelling themes in this book. The standout issue was Katie learning to be true to herself and pursue her strengths and passions in her own way. There could have been interesting explorations into policing, but instead a nuanced commentary on how police handle cases like this one was swept aside for the cop romance. I get that not every book needs to be thematically complex, but it just seemed like a big missed opportunity.

Overall, this was an easy read with some entertaining characters and a decent mystery. If you are looking for something quick that isn’t too complex and are able to suspend disbelief for a bit, you’ll probably have a good time with this one. I was just hoping for something a bit more. Therefore, I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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