HarperCollins | 2017 (15 June) | 544p | Review copy | Buy the book
Solomon Creed is a man with no past and a need for answers. The only clue to his identity is in the label of his tailored jacket, on which is sewn Solomon’s name and that of the tailor in the small French town of Cordes. Instinctively, Solomon makes his way there. But he arrives too late. Josef the tailor has been tortured to death, a message smeared in his blood on the walls, but dying before he could give his murderer the information he would kill for – something about a list and a suit made for the ‘pale man’. The police assume that Solomon is guilty but he knows he cannot let them stop him – he must save the tailor’s granddaughter Marie-Claude and her son Léo. He knows the killer will come for them next.
And so begins a chase across France, with Solomon, Marie-Claude and Léo in pursuit of evil, while behind them follows Commandment Anand, a policeman who has himself one eye on his own grave, and a doctor who professes to know the truth about Solomon Cane. But why was Josef killed? Marie-Claude has no doubt that it has something to do with the Second World War when her grandfather was one of the very few to survive a death camp. ‘The Others’, the men who survived with him, are under attack all these years on. The race for the truth could kill them all.
The Boy Who Saw is the second novel by Simon Toyne to feature his extraordinary and enigmatic hero, Solomon Creed. The first book, itself named Solomon Creed, was such a reading highlight of 2015 and a marvellous introduction to a character who appears to be as much legend as he is man. To Léo, Solomon is a superhero. Not only does this pale man look different to everybody else, and has an unworldliness about him, but Solomon is also incredibly fast in the way he can move. But Léo is himself no usual child – he sees people and their moods in terms of colour. He can actually recognise whether someone is good or evil just by looking at them. He never likes to talk about this, especially not to his mother, but now, watching her son and their rescuer together, Marie-Claude sees her son with new eyes and their relationship tightens even further.
The way that Solomon moves through the world and reacts to people is a strong part of why I love this series so much. There is something otherworldly about Solomon Creed, there can be no doubt of that. We saw hints of that in the last novel and we see more of that here. Who is he? What is his connection to the tailor and to his experiences in a war that was fought seventy years ago? The Boy Who Saw presents a little more about Solomon’s recent past, some possible answers to some of the questions, but they are always in doubt. Always. Solomon Creed is a man you want to believe in. He is captivating.
There is an undercurrent of evil that moves through the entire novel, heightened by the regular extracts from accounts of the War. The Holocaust is never an easy subject to read about, and nor should it be, and Simon Toyne handles it with great sensitivity and care. It is clear that much of that evil still survives, and we see it in the behaviour of several of the citizens of Cordes. If ever there was a town in need of redemption it’s this one. Solomon Creed goes where he’s needed and he’s needed here.
Solomon has competition in The Boy Who Saw and it comes from the boy of the book’s title, Léo. I love the way that he has been written by Simon Toyne. His interaction with Solomon is wonderful as Solomon dedicates himself to keeping the child safe. Whether that’s a promise he can keep is another matter. I must mention Commandment Anand. What a fantastic character this is, so beautifully drawn.
Simon Toyne is one of the very best writers out there, moving thrillers into new territory. I adored his Sanctus trilogy. Those books, and the Solomon Creed novels, make such good use of place and I also love the way in which they are infused with big themes, such as religion and salvation. The Boy Who Saw is every bit as brilliant as Solomon Creed, if not even better. Perhaps that is something to do with the tenderness of some of its pages, while also the horror and evil feel even more real and close at hand. Solomon remains essentially unknowable and isolated but there is so much to learn. He gives so much.
If you haven’t read Solomon Creed then you can enjoy The Boy Who Saw perfectly well as a stand alone novel but, please, give yourself a treat and enjoy them both.