Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: Kubrick's Game by Derek Taylor Kent

His whole life, ubernerd Shawn Hagan has had trouble finding a comfortable niche. His family doesn’t understand him, most people’s actions are a puzzle, but with an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and one patient friend with his own difficult childhood, Shawn has finally found a home of sorts at UCLA’s film school. Ah, sweet academia, where a student’s life is guided by a course plan and nothing out of the ordinary ever happens.

Until now.

A mysterious package from the late director Stanley Kubrick arrives on the desk of the equally enigmatic UCLA professor, Antonio Mascaro. Shortly before his death, Kubrick devised a complex and obscure series of puzzles linked to hidden clues in his movies. Mascaro offers Shawn a chance to compete for the secret grand prize. Shawn, a huge Kubrick fan, is intrigued. Is this a huge joke or are the rumors of Kubrick’s lost film footage real? Is that the prize? Mascaro hints it may be something that can change world history. Or perhaps only the life of a geek who never felt comfortable anywhere except in front of a movie screen.

The difficulty? UCLA is not the only film school to receive a package. As Shawn delves deeper into the mystery by unraveling clues, the nerdy guy with social issues acquires a team to help along the way.  Soon, mysterious armed men along with other film students are on the trail of Shawn and his friends as they try to be the first team to find the prize. Will Shawn live long enough to collect his reward? Will the poor schlub ever get a girl? Any girl?

There’s a lot of fun in Kubrick's Game which draws connections between loopy conspiracy theories involving the Freemasons, NASA, and bizarre secret codes hidden in Stanley Kubrick films. Even a few celebrities such as Malcolm McDowell and Steven Spielberg make guest appearances. (For the record, Malcolm comes across as much more fun than Steven who’s a bit of a poop.) Although the ‘clues’ are a huge stretch and downright silly at times, the enjoyment is in seeing how Shawn and his friends find the answers. A reader also gets a good sense of the atmosphere at UCLA, the connection to the Hollywood entertainment industry, and the competitiveness and rivalries between its students and those enrolled in USC’s film school.

In general, Kubrick's Game will appeal the most to puzzle fans and film buffs. A slight knowledge of Kubrick films is helpful, but not necessary. Prepare to hear a lot of behind-the-scenes stories of his movies. (Including the fact his name is pronounced Kyu-brick and not Ku-brick.) The reader doesn’t need to be a Kubrick fan. I’m not in love with either Stanley Kyu-brick or Stanley Ku-brick movies, but I liked the book, especially the increasingly lunatic puzzle answers, each one leading Shawn and his team closer to the solution and deeper into danger.

The biggest weakness is characterization. The most convincing personalities are Shawn and his friend, Wilson, but the women all sound alike. They have differences in physical appearances, but their personalities are interchangeable and fairly bland. They’re not awful, but rather unmemorable. Nothing much distinguishes one from another. The villains are more of the cartoony, twirl-your-mustache type.

All in all, Kubrick’s Game is nice light reading and an interesting way for a movie buff to spend a few hours away from Netflix.

I received this book from the author in exchange for a review.

Chapter 1

There’s nothing like the smell of two billion meters of historic film mingled with Soltrol cleaning solution in the morning.

Tony Strauss considered himself the luckiest man alive to enter his office to that one-of-a-kind aroma each day for the past thirty-two years.

As the curator of the newly opened UCLA Film and Television archive in Valencia, a monumental complex six years in construction, he personally oversaw the cataloguing, storage, preservation and restoration of over 220,000 film and television reels, and the 27 million feet of newsreel footage, spanning over one hundred years. He presided over one of the largest archives of media in the world, second only to the Library of Congress.

Most would consider Strauss’s daily routine tedious beyond all reason, but to him, each repetitive hour restoring precious frames of a forgotten classic might as well have been a day at the carnival.

An added bonus: he could work all day in sweatpants and an old t-shirt. With his unkempt graying-black hair, glasses and pudgy frame, he looked like a certain famous director. “You’re an old-school Peter Jackson!” people would exclaim. Strauss would shake his head, thinking he looked more like another director who didn’t make as many talk show appearances.

He lived for the moments each week when a lost reel of footage found in a dusty attic, or unearthed in a studio warehouse, showed up in his mailbox. Each delivery held a potential holy grail.

Thousands of curious packages had come to him over the years, offering a tantalizing prize inside like little Cracker Jack boxes, or sometimes that rare pot of gold. But nothing could have prepared him for the package that had arrived this morning.

The envelope was rectangular and black, except for the thin white scribble of the archive’s address and the sender’s name. When he read the name of the sender, his hands began trembling.

“This can’t be,” he said.

Bold instructions on the front read:

The day had arrived. He slipped on a pair of rubber gloves and delicately unclasped the large envelope, painstakingly unsticking the edges.
He removed the contents, then ran to the phone.

“Hello, Professor, this is Tony Strauss. I’m sorry to call you so early, but just like you predicted, something strange has arrived. Yes, I know it’s five in the morning, but I didn’t think it could wait. You see, it’s impossible that we could have received a package from this person, because.... Professor, the sender has been dead for more than fifteen years.”

As Tony spoke the sender’s name, he heard a thud as if the phone had been dropped to the floor.

After a moment, the professor said, “I’m on the way. Tell no one else of this.”

The package had been sent by Stanley Kubrick.


About the Author:

Derek Taylor Kent, a multi- genre novelist, received a three book deal with HarperCollins for his award winning book series Scary School which was penned under his pseudonym Derek the Ghost. His romantic-comedy script Cupids was optioned by Liberty Films before the ink was dry on his next novel. Derek’s most recent screenplay, Naughty, co-written with Shawn Kittelsen, was recently picked up by Paradox Factory Productions and Without Chemicals.  Additionally, Derek's bilingual picture book El Perro Con Sombrero was released through Holt-Macmillan in August 2015. For more information on Derek Taylor Kent go to

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