A review of “Play The Fool: A Mystery” by Lina Chern

Full disclosure – I was provided an advanced reader’s copy of this book by the authors but have voluntarily provided a review. All opinions are my own.

Play the Fool is scheduled for a March 28,2023 release

The Luck of the Draw

Katie True’s life is not the greatest, but she makes it work. After trying her hand in a slightly more professional setting, she is currently working at a dying mall in a shady area of the Chicago suburbs. Much to her affluent family’s dismay, she spends her days reading tarot cards while manning the register at a Russian tchotchke store. But all is not completely horrible for Katie. Her best friend Marley works across the hall, and they frequently hang out together on breaks. Things aren’t fabulous but they also aren’t horrible. That is until a really strange acting guy stumbles into her shop just before closing. Jittery and visibly shaken, Katie offers to do his reading but after a sneaky look at his phone when he is distracted her world falls apart. On his phone is a photo of what appears to be dead woman…but it’s not just any dead woman, it’s her best friend Marley. Katie is devastated but launches a one-woman quest (with the unofficial help of a local cop) to find Marley’s killer and bring them to justice. With nothing but her wits to guide her Katie sets out on a quest to find her friend’s killers and bring them to justice without getting herself killed in the process.

Play the Fool, the debut novel by author Lina Chern, can best be described as a quirky mystery that is a little bit cozy, but it definitely does not fit into that genre. Chern has managed with her debut novel to create a story that cannot be labeled easily. With a more current setting, it was very easy for me to picture the various places described even though I have never set foot in Chicago or her surrounding suburbs. Using descriptions that were as vivid as they were simplistic the author pretty much captured modern day urban any town USA. From the Asian market behind Katie’s apartment (I could literally smell the kimchi and other various spices), to the must have athletic store, and even the “once upscale but now slightly run down but still hanging on” neighborhoods, Chern’s visualizations really helped to bring her story to life. The concept the dying mall in particular was so brilliant! What town does not have one of those and this really intrigued the urban explorer enthusiast in me, particularly in the closing parts of the story. Not really being familiar with tarot, Chern’s use of Katie’s overactive (at times) imagination to associate certain people or situations with a specific card was an effective and simple way to incorporate this aspect into the overall story line. For a debut novel I feel this was a strong offering. The characters held my attention, and the locations were clearly defined. Even though there was a definite ending to the narrative, I love how Chern leaves the door cracked for future escapades with this cast of characters.

 If you like mystery that is witty, characters that are snarky and relatable, and a headstrong female lead that does not intimidate easily, Play the Fool would fill that bill. After this debut, I am looking forward to what Chern thinks up next and while I’m hoping we get some of the same themes, something tells me this author is only getting warmed up. Whether it be a return to Lake Terrace and more escapades with Katie, Jamie and the other cast of characters or a new storyline I am confident Chern will not disappoint.

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