Year: 2014 (11 December)
Source: Review copy
Sinkholes are increasingly in the news, swallowing cars, even houses and occasionally people. But now there are thousands of sinkholes, more every day, enormous in size, eating buildings, whole communities, and not one of them has anything to do with water, the usual explanation for the appearance of these dangerous chasms. And for those who survive the drop into the dark stench, there is no escape. Cameras on the surface or in the air record something terrible moving down there along with the fallen. The powers that be watch in horror while a few individuals – geologists, linguists, soldiers, spies – hunt and fight for the clues left to us by our ancient past. An anthropologist in Syria has no doubt – the answers lie in The Book of the Dead, this lost text must be found, its dead language translated and read. The gates of hell themselves are about to open.
Greig Beck’s Book of the Dead is a relatively short novel (300 pages or so) and for its size it packs quite a punch. I read it in little more than a day and I loved every bit of it. It is a success for lots of reasons, not least of which is that it is very well written. It captures a phenomenon familiar to us from news reports and turns it into something monstrous, resulting in a pageturner that combines horror, apocalypse and thriller. It is littered with the stories of the poor souls who live on top of one of the sinkholes. Through their terror we get a glimpse of the true foul enormity of the task that humanity must overcome if it is to survive. Much of the action takes place in the United States but it also includes visits to Syria and Egypt and the threat feels worldwide and massive in scale.
Beck brings together an entertaining mix of people to fight this thing – our hero is linguist Matt Kearns but fighting alongside Matt is Israeli powerhouse Captain Adira Senesh as well American Captain Tania Kovitz, geologist Andy Bennet and a small number of others. They squabble, they bicker, fight and even make love on occasions – as you’d expect from a lively bunch of thriller heroes – but I was particularly taken by Matt and Adira and was delighted to discover that they have both featured in other novels by Beck. This is an apocalyptic tale and so you don’t expect all of our heroes to survive – Beck doesn’t disappoint.
Not all of the baddies are sinkhole dwellers and our chief human villain is suitably vile. There is a squeamish factor to some of it but this is horror and it’s delicately done. It doesn’t have the gore of other horror novels I’ve read but it most certainly has the menace and foreboding. I found the whole premise of the novel frightening and its explanation satisfying. Obviously, it helps to restrain your incredulity with such a book but I found it very easy to do. By the time of the harrowing and thrilling conclusion, I was completely hooked. You must discover the nature of the creatures that infest the sinkholes for yourself, but they were made for nightmares.
I haven’t read any Greig Beck thrillers before although I have frequently been tempted. After reading Book of the Dead, I’m going to snap up the lot. Discovering another good thriller writer is always cause for celebration.