JUST PLAY ALONG is Megan Daymond's debut novel, and she's taken on quite confrontational subject matter. A double date that turns into a snuff film, with one of the girls fighting back and killing one of the attackers in the struggle to survive. From there things go from bad to worse as video of the attack is leaked online, and Andy finds herself the centre of attention, and under threat. Add to that the discovery of six female bodies buried in bushland on Sydney's Northern Beaches, and a possible connection to the snuff-film ring, and Andy finds herself at the centre of an investigation, and a more drawn out fight for her life.
Starting out in sit up and take notice fashion, Andy's encounter and killing of one of the attackers is certainly going to grab reader's attention. Unfortunately things take an odd turn from there with romantic attachments, wilfully daft behaviour, some glossed over addiction issues and we end up with a central heroine who should be impressive but seems like a bit of a naive whinger, inexplicably irresistible to every man she encounters. It's also worth noting that whilst Andy's friend Mel is also caught up in the date disaster, she kind of disappears for large portions of the story here, with the focus being very much on Andy, and to be frank, Andy's almost epic stupidity. Difficult to avoid fleeting images of high-heels, power cuts, candles, scanty nighties and something going bang in the cellar.
It's a bit hard to tell where or how JUST PLAY ALONG was intended to play out. It definitely has a central plot idea with potential for some dark and light, some awful and good, but it kind of shape-shifts from tense thriller to personal drama, with a very overcrowded cast, pretty quickly. Even allowing for that, the attraction between a would be victim / come hero of her own hour and the well-meaning cop doesn't quite ring true. There's too little credibility in Andy's reactions to her circumstances and ongoing events, and behaviours with bad guys, good guys, or anybody much at all, for the attraction to be believable and the threat to have much sting. As always, debut novels need a little slack cut, and there is potential here - it does feel like it needs a little more focus on tension and plot advancement and a little more refinement in character development, to deliver what is ultimately a really strong central idea.