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.