The Dying Game
An isolated island, six unruly candidates for the same secret job, a harrowing psychological stress test, and one unstable woman’s staged murder. Welcome to Isola.
The year is 2037, the Berlin Wall never fell, and Sweden is annexed into a large, autocratic Eastern block. Anna Francis is a hardworking bureaucrat, a cog in a massive state machine. In the totalitarian Union, information is spread on a need-to-know basis, food is rationed, and import goods are available only to the well connected. Anna has a troubled past in the Union’s service and a sinister secret that has left her unable to care for the young daughter she constantly longs for.
Anna is struggling to get through each gray, identical day when she is presented with an offer she can’t refuse. The Union Chairman strong-arms her to partake in what he promises will be one final mission after which past wrongs will be forgotten so that she can finally be free to focus on her daughter. Anna will be sent to the remote island of Isola in the Stockholm archipelago in order to observe a group of candidates being tested for a position in the Union’s most covert intelligence unit. Her job is straightforward, the Chairman insists. On the first night of the forty-eight-hour stay, Anna’s death will be staged. After she has purportedly been killed, Anna will observe how the participants react to the news that there is a murderer among them. Who will take control of the situation? Who will crack under pressure and fear? From her hiding place inside the walls of the house, Anna’s task is to judge which candidate best handles this singularly cruel stress test.
But as soon as she sets her foot on Isola, Anna realizes that things are not what they seem. A storm rolls in and with it all communication with the mainland is cut. One by one, the candidates are taken out – or disappear? And a love story from the past blows up in her face. Soon the crude psychological experiment turns into a battle for life and death. Who is really the hunter and who is the hunted? Who is watching whom? Over the course of the novel’s explosive pages, the life of one woman is unraveled and the sinister nature of the totalitarian state in which she lives is fully revealed.
“Isola is a well-constructed paranoid thriller […] Full of unexpected twists and turns, power games, and realizations that no one is to be trusted. With a prose so effective that it’s capable of evoking the concrete gray atmosphere of totalitarism, Avdic stays on point from beginning to end. This is exceedingly skillful craftsmanship. […] The pages rush past – I can’t seem to be able to put the book down.”
“Agatha Christie meets George Orwell in journalist Avdic’s unsettling first novel, set in Sweden in 2037. A coup has led to a state of martial law and the country’s transformation into a protectorate under the aegis of an international entity known as the Union of Friendship. Anna Francis, a bureaucrat, is estranged from her family and tempted by an unusual job offer from a high official called the Chairman. The Chairman explains that the secret RAN Project is short-handed and that a psychological exercise has been devised to identify a suitable new member of the team: prospective candidates are to be transported to a remote island, along with Anna, who will pretend to have been murdered, so that she can covertly observe their reactions to the unexpected trauma. Things don’t go as planned, and Anna soon has a real murder to deal with. Avdic not only constructs a fascinating and original plot but makes her imagined reality chillingly plausible.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review (US)
“A captivating thought-experiment. A dystopia so credible it provokes chills, and a world that fits the psychological thriller like a glove.”
BORÅS TIDNING (SE)
“An Orwellian debut novel that never lets up.”
“Isola portrays a society characterized by informing and tacit extortion. The author quickly establishes a Kafkaesque atmosphere with interrogations and protocols. […] Isola is an accomplished literary composition, an impressive debut.”
“Dense, unpredictable, and with a perfectly composed intrigue. The dystopian elements, that portray the kind of mechanization of society and instrumentalization of humanity that characterizes authoritarian societies, retain a vagueness which, paradoxically enough, makes it so much more credible.”
“Åsa Avdic uses different narrative perspectives to widen the lens, her prose is straightforward and efficient. It doesn’t just takes a suspenseful story for a thriller to truly engage the reader, you need credible characters to care for – and she has that, too. Anna Francis is a complex character who evokes compassion, and even the people of power have been given simple yet functional traits, making them flesh and blood persons. […] Isola is in some ways like a Swedish Hunger Games for adults. The dystopian thriller is a rewarding yet precarious genre. Avdic skillfully navigates around the pitfalls. […] A very promising debut.”
SKARABORGS LÄNSTIDNING (SE)
“Åsa Avdic’s literary debut Isola is entertainment from the first to the last page.”
BOKFLODEN, BLOG (SE)
“A deliciously creepy novel revolving around a terrific paradigm shift: The job you think you’re doing? That’s not the job you’re really doing.”
CHRIS PAVONE, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE EXPATS
“Spoiler alert: you’re going to love this book.”
MATS STRANDBERG, BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE CIRCLE