Review of Critical Hit: A Gaming Mystery by W.M. Akers

Critical Hit promises a hybrid of adventure and mystery. And it delivers on its promise.

First off, I was intrigued by the well-designed maps in the front pages, which seemed to promise a dual setting.
The first is Tennessee in 2003 and the second is the fantasy locale created for sport, but which is often real enough to convince most players of table-top RPGs.

What follows is a fast-paced novel with first-person narration that makes for an immersive reading experience. It pokes fun with cultural references and contains an endearing intimacy with its characters, sustained through effective scenes of ups and downs, where our narrator must face challenges we can all relate to.

The medieval feel of the fantasy atmospheric backdrop makes way for a modern set-up in which the griffons and weaponry are secondary to the real events, until the reality of Callie’s life shifts gameward.

After the initial set up, we are treated to a well-described action and adventure, with signature touches of humor on every page. While the modern-America sections contrasted the fantasy setting, they were no less interesting.

The impressive character description and realistic dialogue kept me turning pages. The D & D-esque play by play clued me into the sub-culture I was only mildly familiar with, while revealing satirical character traits. There were moments reminiscent of Stranger Things for their pseudo-retro nostalgic feel. Plenty of pop culture references to engage my inner trivia buff. The author gets into the intricacies of gaming, arts and crafts, and world building with aplomb.

I am guilty of taking an escapist approach to life when troubles rear their head – which could be a side effect of the media suffusing our culture. When uncontrollables shatter the status quo, it is tempting to seal ourselves inside worlds of our own creation. Amid the moving familial backstory, school situation, or gaming description I was at home in the author’s always engrossing prose style, which I would describe as consummately approachable.

Tragedy tests the main character, but love for fantasy persists, pushing Callie deeper into the game. So too, will each development tempt you deeper into the microcosm of this novel.

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Dane was a reliable guitarist until he got addicted to ants. Now he’s just a giant anteater with an abysmal grade point average. On a date with lead singer, Serena, they witness a gruesome incident. Waking up in the hospital, Dane realizes Serena’s missing. Going to the police only gets him a felony for possession of ants. Now, forced to lick the habit while he tracks down Serena, he’s going to need a little help from the band.

Investigating familiar watering holes (while stopping for one or two drinks) leads him to an underground criminal organization. Is it a coincidence that a feline fatale attempts to recruit him for the mob? Should he expose the dirty underbelly of their society, putting Serena and his band on the line, or try to take them down from the inside? Either way, it’s going to take more than the Komodo dragon on clarinet.