...[a] bizarre exposé of the disappearance industry. In it she grills 'privacy consultants' who help people vanish, interviews investigators who specialize in death fraud, and even explores black-market morgues in the Philippines where people can obtain bogus death certificates—for a price. Don’t mistake this for a how-to manual, though. Greenwood herself wasn’t seriously tempted to disappear. 'Nothing is ever free,' she says, surveying the broken families left behind when someone fakes their own death.
The fun in Greenwood’s book — much of it admittedly grim fun — is in learning the details ... The book’s weakness is in its frame. Ms. Greenwood sells us the project as an investigation and survey spurred by her own desire to fake her death. That desire may have been real, but these pages don’t convince us of it...the book’s tone would be better served if she more often admitted, as she does in one quick sentence, that her intentions were not particularly earnest. She comes across as simply a writer interested in a fascinating subject, which is enough.
[Greenwood's story is] an uneven through-line for a book that feels a little meandering to begin with...And you might need to take Greenwood's on-the-page persona with a grain of salt ... The bummer realities of trying to disappear in the Internet age are tempered with asides about the psychology of vanishing ... at its best, the book delivers all the lo-fi spy shenanigans and caught-red-handed schadenfreude you're hoping for, while also sticking little flags in the right places about the things that really hold us to our lives.
Good title, brilliant topic, absorbing book ... The book sometimes feels padded with off-topic musings, including asides about the writer’s personal life. Greenwood rarely reflects on her topic’s deeper implications, preferring to maintain a breezy, chatty style. But she redeems such faults by offering excellent other stuff, notably the story of her visit to the Philippines.
Playing Dead may be Greenwood’s first book, yet it is smart as a fox, displaying a wicked sense of humor braided with rue ... Greenwood’s storytelling invites you to participate. It challenges you to participate, and it takes sauce simply to enter these precincts.
Playing Dead belongs to that genre of popular nonfiction best exemplified by Jon Ronson...It’s a form that above all requires a likable, self-deprecating, curious narrator, and Greenwood fits the bill, although her prose lacks the polish of Ronson’s deceptively casual wit.
For those familiar with gonzo journalist Jon Ronson, this is a Ronsonesque stunt, and though Greenwood is an entertaining writer, she doesn't quite have his genius for dry understatement. She knows how to tell a good story - and there are lots of them here - but when she writes about herself, her prose is a bit overcooked ... This largeness of imagination makes Greenwood's book a success. Whether death fraudsters strike you as clever schemers or fascinating in a fringe-weirdo sort of way, Greenwood makes them human, a lovely way of showing how expansive life is - even in death.