This work of fiction is probably best described as “dystopian” as it refers to the world or sees the creation in the world of a degraded society that is generally headed to an irreversible oblivion. Indeed the writing is at times so stark and raw that the descriptive prose takes on an almost apocalyptic feel. “The father might have become a wanderer in ancient times, put ashore in a sweltering hive of pirates, slaves, cut-throats, urchins and pickpockets, the dusty and desperate, wide-eyed beseechers and apostles of mutating faiths, increasingly confirmed by the signs of the end of times; all driven here from places baked to clay and burned to dust, arriving at a town besieged and battered by a remorseless yet increasingly lifeless sea.”
The father (we never get to know his real name, and the constant use of the noun is a little irritating) is searching for his daughter Penny who was kidnapped from their home in Torquay. The setting is 2053 and a very different and dysfunctional world than the present day. There is a mass migration of people from southern Europe and Africa creating a frenzy of resettlement and swathes of land in London and Liverpool flooded and swollen. A pandemic is spreading through the populations of Europe. There are chronic water shortages, fires, and droughts and old enemies are beginning to once again seek to destroy each other.
On his journey the father stops at the only pub in Brixham still open above the harbour. As he sips his locally brewed beer, seated comfortably at the window the old man next to him begins a conversation. This wily old stranger is one of many examples that Adam Nevill uses so brilliantly to create visual picture of a world in meltdown…”The old man wiped his beard. The planet’s been more than patient. It was around for over four billion years before we set the first fires to clear the land. But it only took ten thousand years in this inter-glacial period for us to spread like a virus. We were the mad shepherds who didn’t even finish a shift before we poisoned the farm and set fire to the barn. We’ve overheated the earth and dried it out. So it’s time for us to leave, I think. Don’t you?”
Built around a disintegrating and fractured country the father must continue his search. He brutally annihilates suspected pedophiles and in the process finds himself pursued by the feared gang King Death “Some kind of religion mixed with the worst kind of human behavior. Like the jihadists, but without an ultimate goal”
The author’s writing and style reminded me in some ways of The Road by Cormac McCarthy; an apocalyptic journey of a father and son across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm. From the very open sentence the reader is captivated…”The last time he had seen his daughter, she’d been in the front garden. Two years ago.”
This is certainly different to previous novels by Adam Nevill, his direct approach and well researched intelligent storytelling shows an author with a genuine flair for the imaginative and one who is not afraid to experiment.