Book Review: Play the Fool by Lina Chern

A charming debut!

Lina Chern has been published in Mystery WeeklyThe Marlboro ReviewThe Bellingham ReviewRhinoThe CollagistBlack Fox Literary Magazine, and The Coil. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and is represented by Joanna MacKenzie at Nelson Literary AgencyPlay the Fool is her debut novel.

Katie True is an under achiever, working in a small antiquities store in a mall in Chicago. One day, while performing a tarot reading for a client, Katie catches a glimpse of his phone screen and to her horror, sees an image of her friend and coworker, Marley, lying dead with a gunshot to the head. She inserts herself into the case as an amateur sleuth, assisting the police and using her tarot reading skills to hunt down the killer.

This book felt more like a fun mystery than a thriller to me. I loved the humor of the protagonist, Katie True, which brought a light-heartedness to the book and lifted some of the tension around her obvious character flaws. I found the chapters a little long (for my taste), but the pace was steady enough. I enjoyed the fact that, even though most of her life was unstable, the one thing she could rely on was her intuition and the gift of reading tarot (and people). Chern’s descriptions are vivid and her characters felt well fleshed out.

3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy a lighthearted mystery with a headstrong protagonist.



For Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. After a failed attempt at adulting in Chicago, she’s back in the suburbs living a bit too close to her overbearing parents, jumping from one dead-end job to the next, and flipping through her tarot deck for guidance. Then along comes Marley.

Mysterious, worldly, and comfortable in her own skin, Marley takes a job at the mall where Katie peddles Russian tchotchkes. The two just get each other. Marley doesn’t try to fix Katie’s life or pretend to be someone she’s not, and Katie thinks that with Marley’s friendship, she just might make it through this rough patch after all. Until the day when Katie, having been encouraged by Marley to practice soothsaying, reads the cards for someone who stumbles into her shop. But when she sneaks a glance at his phone, she finds more than intel to improve her clairvoyance. She finds a photo. Of Marley. With a gunshot wound to the head.

The bottom falls out of Katie’s world. Her best friend is dead? Who killed her? She quickly realizes there are some things her tarot cards can’t foresee, and she must put her razor-sharp instincts to the ultimate test. But Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crossfire of a threat she never saw coming. Now she must use her street smarts and her inner Strength card to solve Marley’s murder—or risk losing everything.

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