Category Archives: Review

Pyramid by David Gibbins

Publisher: Headline
Pages: 448
Year: 2014 (6 November)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Pyramid by David GibbinsReview
Pyramid is the sequel to Pharaoh and so do be warned there is a little about Pharaoh in the review below. Pyramid would do well as a standalone novel but I would certainly recommend that you enjoy Pharaoh first.

Marine archaeologist and adventurer Jack Howard, together with his friend and diving partner Costas, makes an extraordinary discovery in the depths of the Red Sea – a find that puts under the brightest spotlight one of the key events of the Old Testament. But this is not a good time to be in Egypt. Religious extremists are on the verge of taking over the country, throwing it back into another Dark Ages, taking its people and archaeological treasures to the brink of suppression, death and extermination. It was these dangerous conditions that caused Jack and Costas to flee Egypt in the previous novel, Pharaoh, but their discoveries then were more than enough to bring them back and now, in the Red Sea and in the sands below the pyramids of Giza, there are wonders even more spectacular waiting to be found. That’s if Jack and Costas survive, of course, and the chances of that lessen with every passing hour.

Pharaoh was easily one of my top reads of 2013 – a stunning combination of archaeological puzzle and historical adventure, spending much of its pages exploring the Nile through the eyes of sharpshooter Mayne, a British soldier who, back in the 1880s, was given the perilous mission of rescuing General Gordon from the Mahdi, the religious zealot of his day. Relatively little of the book was spent in the present day with Jack and Costas. In Pyramid, though, the emphasis is very much on the here and now as Jack and Costas uncover the clues that they hope will lead them to the source of a great mystery from ancient Egypt’s past – a mystery that would have enormous significance for the Middle East and for the entire world. The time of Gordon and Mayne isn’t forgotten, though. Several of the clues date from this time, in particular a soldier who disappeared into ancient forgotten tunnels, only to emerge months later completely traumatised and with a story to tell.

Pyramid is a fast moving archaeological adventure although as with David Gibbins’ other novels and especially Pharaoh, I would hesitate to use the word ‘thriller’ to describe them. There are none of the baddies you’d expect in a conventional mystery thriller. Instead the excitement and danger here come from the dives themselves, from the unknown and from the very real and imminent threat of political and military coup. This is all the more frightening in Pyramid because it is so topical. Few readers can be under any illusion about the significance of this threat and as archaeologists scramble to leave the country, trying to take whoever they can with them, the novel moves into a very dark and disturbing place. Part of the story also takes place in Israel. There is an overwhelming sense that history is being made at the same time that it is being discovered.

The archaeological mystery is a good one and the dives are exciting and extremely well described. David Gibbins is an expert and his knowledge shines through, both with the diving scenes and with the history. This meticulousness, in tandem with the absolute charm and appeal of the characters of Jack and Costas, is, I think, one of the main reasons why I enjoy all of these novels so much. Time is taken to get facts straight. If there is one drawback it’s the many times in which Jack and other experts start describing in enormous detail historical events, people, artefacts, places and so on, putting much of the context in characters’ mouths. This can take some getting used to, particularly when such exposition takes place at times of great peril – hardly the best of times for a lecture. Nevertheless, this has never spoiled my pleasure in these novels. It’s difficult to take offence at Jack Howard.

More difficult to overcome in Pyramid are the instances of coincidence or convenience. So much is tied together, everything is linked. But this is an archaeological adventure. Allowances must be made for drama. Arguably, it only stands out because of the authority of David Gibbins as archaeologist and author, making it seem the more surprising. But it’s this expertise, enthusiasm and extraordinary detail and care that helps to make these novels distinct from other mystery thrillers – David Gibbins writes about a world that fascinates him, that he knows a lot about, and he pulls me into it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the parallel late 19th-century story in Pharaoh, so much so that I missed it in Pyramid, but Pyramid is a fine archaeological mystery by one of my very favourite authors. I love the Jack Howard adventures – long may they continue.

Other reviews
The Gods of Atlantis
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 936
Year: 2007
Buy: Kindle, Paperback
Source: Bought copy

The Terror by Dan SimmonsReview
Sir John Franklin, known as ‘the man who ate his shoes’ after his first failed expedition to the Arctic Circle to find the Northwest Passage, has been given one last chance, over twenty years later. Sir John leads an expedition of two vessels reinforced to withstand the crushing might of the ice – HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. While Sir John travels in the flagship Erebus, Captain Francis Crozier commands the Terror. But with no time at all after their arrival in the Arctic, three men are dead of consumption and the ships are trapped for the 1845-46 winter off Beechey Island. The next year they make little progress, finally reaching a standstill off King William Island, so close and yet so far, Sir John is sure, to the entry to the fabled and heartily desired North West Passage.

The Terror evokes with all the power and horror that Dan Simmons’ remarkable imagination can bring forth the cold desolation of the lives of approximately 150 men who are trapped within the ice, not for one year but for closer to three. History tells us that fate will not be kind to these men and so the novel resounds with the hollowness of their future and the desperation of their plight. You’d have thought that having to survive within these freezer ships and then cast out on the ice would be enough to contend with but the Franklin expedition is plagued by something else, the ‘thing’ that stalks them, trying to tunnel its way into their vessels, watching them from the ice, stealing men during the endless Arctic winter night, leaving their pieces to terrorise the minds of the rest of the crews.

The Arctic ice is a wide and open place, sea joining with ice into a great land mass, its horizon merging with the enormous sky, the seam hidden by fog, blizzards or whiteout. But The Terror reminds us of the opposite, its claustrophobia closes in, to cabins, sleeping bags, ships, boats and sledges, and every man has to deal with the psychological assault and physical discomfort of this winter imprisonment. Simmons presents the tale from numerous perspectives, notably, Franklin, Crozier, the surgeon Dr Goodsir (whose tale is told through extracts from his journal) as well as other officers and crew aboard the two ships. We are encouraged to align mostly with the officers but we do get to know several of the sailors aboard. The accounts come from different times, the past slowly joining with the present, present tenses becoming past. It’s a clever construction, bringing together optimism with the loss of hope.

The dangers that the men face on the winter ice are matched by the demons within themselves. Whether this increasing madness is a symptom of scurvy or not, it is plain that as much danger comes from humans as it does from whatever lurks out there on the ice, watching them. The Inuit girl who shadows them, Lady Silence, her tongue gnawed out at its base, is a reminder of the magical power of an environment that these Victorian men cannot control. The Terror is a frightening book because it is steeped in atmosphere and the chill of the Arctic. The entrapment, the increasing hunger and scurvy, all play tricks on the minds of these scared men, terrified out of their wits by the irregular and unpredictable assaults by the thing from the ice.

The Terror takes its time. It is a very long novel at almost one thousand pages. The narrative moves between men, between ships and across the months. The details reminds me of Moby Dick. We learn here about every level of a Victorian ice breaking vessel, its stocks, its crew, its codes, as well as the competition in London between explorers and captains. There are chapters of intense excitement when the violence overspills but for much of the time there is a mood of ominous imminent potential danger. The thing is out there, stalking the Terror, and it is never less than horrifying not least because it can’t always be seen.

But it’s not difficult to see the allegory of this novel, in the same way that it was evident in Moby Dick. True story it might be but this is the tale of a group of men entirely out of place, inflicting their presence on an environment – and local people – that doesn’t want it. The mentions of Darwin and his evolutionary theory remind us that the modern world is changing but that is irrelevant in the Arctic night. The tension and darkness increase, despite the brief glimpses of hope that glances at the unreliable horizon-skimming sun bring, the violence and horror press down harder on our shoulders. Madness threatens. Through it all we have the journey of Captain Crozier who perhaps more than anyone or anything, except the thing on the ice, forms the heart of this extraordinary novel.

Last year I read Dan Simmons’ The Abominable, a richly evocative account of an early ascent of Everest, equally frightening with its depiction of human and inhuman violence. The Abominable was one of my top three reads of 2013. The Terror, written a few years earlier, is no less powerful and is just as emotional, perceptive and frightening a read. I recommend them both completely, every bit as much as Dan Simmons’ superb Hyperion.

Other review
The Abominable

Finished Business by David Wishart

Publisher: Severn House/Creme de la Creme
Pages: 224
Year: 2014 (Hb: 31 July; Kindle: 1 November)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Finished Business by David WishartReview
Marcus Corvinus is in a grumpy mood, largely brought on by the misery of spending time in Rome during a particularly wet November. It’s all to the good, then, when Naevia Postuma arrives on his doorstep with just the type of distracting puzzle he likes. Postuma’s uncle, Naevius Surdinus, is dead, squashed beneath a piece of masonry that toppled from a tower he was having renovated on his estate. Postuma insists that this was no accident. It was murder and she’s completely certain of this because Alexander told her so. That’ll be Alexander the Great.

Never one not to roll his eyes at the eccentricities and foibles of Rome’s elite (and non-elite), Marcus’s interest is caught. Not because Postuma believes she is advised by the dead, but because the deceased is an old family friend of Marcus’s wife, Perilla. In fact, Surdinus wrote to Perilla just four days before he died, enclosing a philosophical tract. Surdinus believed he was about to die and once Marcus begins to investigate his family he can understand why.

Marcus Corvinus is my favourite Roman detective and it is so good to see him engaged on another mystery, supported as he always is by Perilla and well-served as he always is by his mind-reading, dry and pithy major-domo Bathyllus and his temperamental, high-maintenance and extraordinarily gifted chef Meton. Quite apart from knowing exactly how to make me laugh, Marcus is also extremely able at sniffing out crime, being something of an otherwise idle aristocrat. His current case is especially satisfying because it appears to be all about Roman broken families. Surdinus was very recently divorced and his home situation wasn’t helped by an ambitious foxy mistress, a jealous and rather incapable son and heir and another son who had been as good as disinherited once he announced his intention of becoming an artist. There are an awful lot of suspects to choose from and Marcus is soon happily embroiled in Roman high society scandal.

But Finished Business is not as straightforward as one might think. As with all David Wishart’s novels there is another side to this world and the clues to that can be found in the date in which the books are set. Finished Business takes place during November 40 AD. Caligula – or Gaius – is emperor but the wings are stirring. There are spies everywhere and more and more notice is being taken of harmless Uncle Claudius. Marcus Corvinus is an old associate of Gaius but even he is now keeping his distance – as long as he is allowed, that is. Caligula has a habit of making his presence felt. Behind the humour, the eccentricities and the puzzles of the murder mystery lies another world and this one is political, far-reaching and with the potential to be very frightening indeed.

Finished Business is very much a novel of two halves, both of which have a lot to offer and provide a great contribution to this wonderful series. It presents a vivid, rich and lively portrait of Rome – its homes both grand and poor, its businesses, shops and streets – as well as the Romans themselves, the men and women who lived their lives within those long gone walls. It’s definitely best to have your wits about you. There are stings in the tail.

I think it’s fair to say that Finished Business is my favourite in the series so far, combining detective story and political drama perfectly, although I must say that I do wish there was more of it. At only 224 pages this is a book to read in just a day or two. I would like to spend much more time in the entertaining, witty and dangerous world of Marcus Corvinus, Perilla and their scene-stealing household.

Other review
Solid Citizens

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 278
Year: 2014 (23 October)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie TidharReview
Herr Wolf is an immigrant in 1939 London, one of many Germans driven out from the Fatherland after the fall of fascism in the 1933 German elections. Wolf was once the leader of German fascism but, with his own country caught in the vice of a communist revolution, Wolf, as he now calls himself, makes ends meet as a private detective, living in London’s underworld, amongst its gangsters, thugs and prostitutes. Wolf would never choose to work for Jews unless desperate but desperate he is when Isabella Rubinstein walks into his office. Her sister Judith is missing, one of many immigrants smuggled out of Germany and now lost. Isabella knows exactly which buttons to press. Wolf is soon entangled and descends even deeper into the rot in London’s poorest streets and its racket clubs, so many of which are run by the men who once, years before, clicked their heels at Wolf.

But none of this is real. Shomer lies dreaming in the hell that the Nazis have created. He is in Auschwitz, his family slashed in two, his wife and children gassed, his own survival unlikely. Before the Holocaust, Shomer was a writer of pulp fiction. Now he survives one day at a time by dreaming an alternate history, one in which Hitler never rose to power but instead has to hide himself in a foreign city under a different name, working for the very people he despises, pitied and repudiated by Britain’s own rising fascist faction, and reduced to something less than human by the the lust and hatred that has twisted his soul.

In A Man Lies Dreaming Lavie Tidhar has created an extraordinary vision of a shifted, dark and rotted world. At its heart Shomer lies dreaming and throughout we are given brief and painfully graphic glimpses into his night and day. In the centre of his dream is Wolf and for most of the novel we watch Wolf move through his London, chasing the missing Judith while also working on his other mission to keep Sir Oswald Mosley, a fascist with dreams of becoming Prime Minister, safe from assassination. While at times we see Wolf through the omnipresent eyes of our narrator, there are many other times when we descend into Wolf’s mind though his journal entries. This is a nasty place to be and no attempt is made to win over the reader. Instead, the clever shifting narration keeps us at a safe distance as we sit and observe Wolf.

A Man Lies Dreaming is a most unusual book – our leading character is despicable and we are constantly reminded of this, by the condition of Shomer and by Wolf’s own condition. Wolf is a man immersed in sin and the evil he has created is his own reward as Shomer struggles to hold on to his own life and sanity. We watch Wolf unwind and the violence he suffers has the satisfaction of fate about it. A Man Lies Dreaming is about a man who cannot be saved; our empathy and feeling is reserved entirely for Shomer.

The other characters in the novel all have a purpose designed by the dreamer. Their function is to define, torment and disintegrate Wolf. The characters from Wolf’s past are there to remind him of what he’s lost while Mosley and the Mitford sisters taunt him with what could have been. Isabella Rubinstein and her father exert a justice that is painfully precise and justified. Other characters live in in the memories that Wolf recalls in his diary, so many of them now destroyed. Familiar names are thrown at us throughout and there is no little satisfaction in fitting them back into history as it actually happened. The London that it depicts is also well done. Both familiar and different, this is a London where fascism is on the rise but where the downtrodden, the beaten and the victimised are beginning to fight back.

A Man Lies Dreaming might be dark and powerful and at times painfully graphic (sex and violence – especially the sex) but I found the novel fascinating and extremely difficult to put down, reading it in a couple of sittings. It’s hugely clever, aimed at (and hitting) both the reader’s heart and mind, witty and completely absorbing. Lavie Tidhar is a writer with extraordinary flair and wit – as I already knew from his previous novel The Violent Century – but in A Man Lies Dreaming Tidhar takes extra steps and the result is an incredibly brave and imaginative novel, evoking in a such an unusual and effective way the trauma of the Holocaust, and without doubt it will feature in my top ten books of 2014. And what a fantastic cover.

Other review
The Violent Century

The Tudor Vendetta by Christopher Gortner

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 294
Year: 2014 (US: 21 October under the name C.W. Gortner; UK 23 October)
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. GortnerReview
It is 1558 and Bloody Mary is dead. London rejoices as their young Queen Elizabeth takes the throne that almost cost her her life. This is the signal for her supporters to return from their enforced exile on the continent, among them spymaster Frances Walsingham and his assistant Brendan Prescott, Elizabeth’s most trusted spy, the man who keeps so many of her secrets. He’s a natural, having so many great secrets of his own. Brendon’s absence cost him much. He didn’t tell his lover Kate, Elizabeth’s lady in waiting, where he was going, anxious to keep her safe from his enemies while struggling with the memory of his previous mission in Elizabeth’s service. But Brendon’s return to court is not without its dangers. It means a reunion with Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s favourite and a nasty bit of work if ever there was one, and then there’s the matter of the disappearance of Elizabeth’s closest attendant Lady Parry in Yorkshire. Elizabeth suspects foul play and so almost before Brendon has chance to reacquaint himself with London and all that he’s missed he’s despatched to the north on what will become a most troublesome and fascinating mission.

The Tudor Vendetta is the third and final book in Christopher Gortner’s Elizabeth’s Spymaster trilogy – the previous novel, The Tudor Conspiracy is a hard act to follow, bringing to life as vividly as it does the bitter and unwell court of Mary Tudor. But, if anything, The Tudor Vendetta is even better, demonstrating that Elizabeth’s life is in just as much danger as it ever was when she was heir to the suspicious Mary Tudor, giving us a mystery that is even more thrilling and atmospheric.

The novel is divided between time spent at Elizabeth’s court in London and Brendon’s travels to the house of Lord Vaughan in Yorkshire’s East Riding. While I thoroughly enjoyed the luxurious London scenes, the brittle happiness of Elizabeth, the tension between Brendon and Kate, and the confrontations with nasty Dudley, the novel came into its own for me during the Yorkshire chapters. As soon as Brendon arrives there, it is clear that something is terribly wrong. Lord Vaughan has just that day buried his son, the manor is almost emptied of servants, strangers are glimpsed on the estate, doors are locked, the darkness is oppressive, exceeded only by the unhappiness of the house. It’s as far from London and Elizabeth’s new court as it can be and of Lady Parry there is not a trace.

Christopher Gortner is such a good writer, showing great empathy for his characters, whether major or minor, as well as for their surroundings and animals. Here we have the growing and really tender relationship between Brendon and Shelton, his father, who is such an important and memorable figure in this novel. In The Tudor Vendetta Gortner’s powers reaches their height in the Yorkshire scenes. For me, the whole episode had something of a Hounds of the Baskerville feel about it – frightening, melodramatic and sinister but also strangely comforting and beautiful. I was captivated. On top of that the mystery itself is fabulous! It took me in completely and I never guessed.

The atmosphere, tension and mystery are the most important elements of The Tudor Vendetta, and a fine job they do, but I really enjoy the portraits of Elizabeth and Dudley in particular. These are complicated people, albeit glimpsed relatively fleetingly, struggling with past events and even though Dudley has bullied Brendon since they were children and his saving graces are near enough non-existent, there are signs here that there may be more to him. Although this is the final book in the trilogy, I would have enjoyed spending more time with Brendon, Dudley and Elizabeth in London.

Without doubt, The Tudor Vendetta would do very well as a standalone novel. There are more than enough hints of the difficult history that Brendon, Kate, Shelton, Elizabeth and Dudley are having to deal with and all of these characters, even Dudley, are changing as a result of the past. The novel is satisfactorily complete in itself while also looking ahead to the future of a glorious reign. Relationships are changing and events are moving on. Nothing will be the same again, thanks in no small part to the courage and honour of Elizabeth’s spymaster Brendon Prescott.

Other reviews
The Tudor Conspiracy
The Queen’s Vow (as C.W. Gortner)

Age of Iron by Angus Watson

Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 523
Year: 2014
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Age of Iron by Angus WatsonReview
If you take a look at the banner above this post, you’ll find Maiden Castle looking down at you out of a frosty chilled sky. Always one of my favourite places, I jumped at the chance to read a novel about it, back in its Iron Age glory, populated by fierce warriors, terrifying druids and the finest craftsmen and women of the age. Age of Iron by Angus Watson delivered all that I asked for by the chariot load. Fiction it certainly is, there are no firsthand accounts of Iron Age Britain other than those written by Julius Caesar, the conqueror who couldn’t pull it off, and so Age of Iron is perhaps more fantasy than (pre)historical fiction. But how real it feels! The novel is set in the years immediately before Caesar’s much anticipated arrival and, as the preface states, ‘The following is what really happened’. And, after reading this bloody, thrilling and exhilarating tour de force of an adventure, who am I to argue?

The year is 61 BC and the southern tribes of Britain are dominated by King Zadar, whose power spirals out from Maidun Castle (as it’s called here) to enclose all of the neighbouring tribes and hillforts. While many pay him an annual tribute of slaves, metal and crops, others are stamped out by his fierce army of male and female warriors, archers and charioteers. As the novel begins, Zadar has reached Barton. The inhabitants trust that he will march on by but Dug Sealskinner, a mercenary who was on his way to enlist in Zadar’s army but somehow got stuck instead with the responsibility of knocking Barton’s ‘army’ into shape, knows differently. And as Zadar’s fearsome elite female archers strike the first blows, Sealskinner knows there is nothing to do but run. Slaughter ensues.

This is the world into which Angus Watson throws us. It is violent and life is short but he gives us three people who each have the power to make a difference. Dug, the ageing warrior who fights against all his kind instincts and occasionally wins, finds himself rescuing a young child scrambling around on the battlefield. Her name is Spring and she is extraordinary, surely one of the most enjoyable and three-dimensional children in recent historical fiction. Dug’s next new comrade is Lowa Finn, one of those very same female archers who fought and won for Zadar only for the band to be wiped out by him in jealousy. Lowa is the only survivor. She is fiercely independent, strong and fierce but even she realises that in order to claim vengeance for her murdered sisters she needs help. With the hammer of Dug, the cunning of Spring and the deadly precision of Lowa, this is a band that can do some harm to Zadar. He’s not just going to stand around and wait for them, though. Zadar is a formidable opponent and by his side he has the most dangerous and skilled of all of the druids. Protecting them both are the walls, ditches, gates and lethal traps of the impenetrable Maidun Castle.

Age of Iron is one of the most exciting novels I have read in a long time. From start to finish there is never a pause in the action. Dug, Lowa and Spring take us on a journey across Iron Age southern Britain as they travel in pursuit of Zadar, honing their skills, getting to know each other, fighting their way from fort to fort, town to town. Their trip is marked by numerous memorable adventures, many of which it’s a miracle anyone can survive, and the people they meet prove time and time again that Dug is right in his philosophy of life – never trust anyone and never help anyone – that he can never keep.

The action, though, is matched by the characterisation. I absolutely adored all three heroes. Each has a unique personality and voice, and dangerous and nasty as all three can be and often are, I was egging them on through every page. Spring adds something very special indeed. She is a most unusual child and the mystery and skills she carries with her adds an extra valuable layer to the novel. It is so hard not to like Dug. We arguably get closer to him than to anyone else and he’s a source of worry for much of the novel. The reader can only guess at what he’s endured during his relatively long and difficult life.

There is little here that is fantastical (although the tribes have fictional names) but the druids inevitably raise the promise and menace of dangerous magic. There is not too much of that but the real threat of the druids in this novel is shown in their utter brutality and venality. There is a suggestion that not all druids are mad and bad but there is horror by the ton not to mention gore, violence, pain, and a vivid imagination.

Angus Watson writes so well. His powers of description are excellent and he keeps more than one wry eye on the future, too. The mention of festivals by the tor made me chuckle and there are lots of lines that raised a smile, just as there were plenty of gory, bloody moments that made me glad I was sitting down. Another aspect I enjoyed is the frequent speculation about what will happen when the Romans invade, as everyone is so sure that they will. This Iron Age society is a relatively equal one, with female warriors and rulers. These women are under no doubt that their value will drop in a Britain ruled by Roman men.

The prehistoric landscape of Britain is a magical place, its clues are all around us in its monuments, hillforts and metal hoards, but it is both familiar and strange, and always fascinating. In my archaeology days, I dug more than my fair share of enigmatic Iron Age remains. There is so much we cannot know. But Angus Watson makes a stab at it and, fiction though it may be, during the time I was immersed in Age of Iron I was willing to believe every word of it. I cannot wait for the next stage in the adventure – Clash of Iron.

The Returned by Seth Patrick

Publisher: Pan
Pages: 468
Year: 2014
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Bought copy

Seth Patrick The ReturnedReview
The Returned is the first of two (or more?) novels to be based on the French supernatural TV series of the same name which was also a hit on Channel 4 when the first series screened in 2013. Seth Patrick’s novelisation covers the events of this first series while the second novel will be published to coincide with the screening of the second series, possibly next Autumn. It’s worth saying that I didn’t see the TV series and so I read the book largely because I am such a fan of Seth Patrick’s excellent and chilly thriller Reviver and I’m having a hard job keeping my impatience in check for its sequel.

A young girl walks along the wall of a dam, making her way to her home in the quiet town below. She is unaware that she is just one of many children mourned by that stricken town, killed in a terrible disaster that saw a coachload of children crash to the ground below, destroying families in an instant, including her own. Camille returns to her twin Lena and her parents, now separated. She knocks on the door, eats a snack and goes upstairs to her bedroom that has become a shrine while her mother watches, unable to believe her eyes. But Camille is not the only lost soul who returns to the town that night. There are others and when they arrive doors shut behind them – relieved or frightened families keeping the secrets safe. But it’s not long before the truth emerges, aided by the preacher Pierre, an inquisitive and suspicious man, who believes that the end is coming and these walking dead are its harbingers.

The Returned is an addictive read. It’s one of the most compelling novels I’ve read in a long time. It approaches 500 pages but I read it in just 24 hours, resenting any attempt to take me from it, such as work, food and sleep. It succeeds as a work of suspense for a number of reasons but not least because it is divided into brief chapters which move between the families affected. We have Camille and her family, the young boy Victor who is taken in by Julie, a nurse who somehow managed to survive a murder attempt some years before and is now so desperate for someone to love, and then there is Serge, an evil man who can now continue where he left off when his life violently ended years before. Finally, there is Simon, a young man who died on his wedding day and now has to cope with watching his fiancee marry someone else, the town’s police chief.

The stories are held together by a number of key individuals in the town, such as the police chief, one of his inspectors, the preacher, the dam keepers and the pub landlord. But the strongest emotions are left for the returned themselves and for their families who, as time goes by, realise that something beyond the work of God is taking place. As the town loses its power and the reservoir loses its water, for no explicable reason, it is clear that a terrible force is watching over this town. The intensity escalates, the tension rises and the horror explodes. This is an exhausting and exhilarating read from start to finish.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Returned but I think it worked well for me because I had no experience of the TV series. If I had, then this would simply have been a reminder of the stories I’d already been told and I probably wouldn’t have read it. It most definitely has the feel of a dramatisation. It is richly visual and very episodic, full of cliffhangers and significant pauses. It is also not a complete book in itself. It is clearly waiting for the second book – and the second series. I’m not a fan of cliffhanger ends to novels and so I felt the usual frustration when I reached the one that ends this novel.

But, as I was all too aware throughout, this novel is not conventional. It follows the rules of the TV series and makes no apologies for it. Fortunately, it is written by a hugely talented author who has real flare for spinning a supernatural tale. I cannot wait for Acolyte, the provisional title of the superb Reviver sequel and, if I have to wait, then I’m very happy to fill the time with such a well-written and truly unputdownable, jawdropping novel as The Returned.

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