The Boy on the Bridge – M. R. Carey

I don’t always read sequels and prequels – I often read the first in a series and move on. Not because I don’t enjoy series (particularly in fantasy and/or post-apocalyptic fiction) but because, well, there are just so many books coming out. All the time. But sometimes a follow-up title comes along that I really need to read – often because the previous volume left so many unanswered questions.  I read and reviewed The Girl With All The Gifts, Carey’s last book, two years ago when it came out in hardback – I managed to wait until Boy on the Bridge came out in paperback but give in I did…

9780356503561It took me awhile to work it out but Boy on the Bridge is set some years before Girl With All the Gifts. In the earlier book we meet children who are similar to the zombie-like beings roaming the countryside, the Hungries. But unlike the adult Hungries these children retain many of their human qualities – the giveaway that we are reading about a few years earlier in this book is the fact that for much of the time the main characters only know of the standard sort of mindless Hungry. They are a mixed group of scientists and military protection who are following a previous expedition which left samples from various zombies. They are searching for any variation in soil type, climate, elevation or other environmental factors but find nothing until they reach Scotland. There are an interesting blend of characters – the military side includes a commanding officer who has been sent out as a political move as well as a variety of junior soldiers. The point is made that, after an apocalyptic event, there are limited career options – mechanics, technicians and anyone who can hold a gun will all end up in the army. The scientists are a similar group, although their weak link is their nominal leader who spends most of his time hiding away. The two members of the team we see most of are Samrina Khan, an epidemiologist, and Stephen, a 15-year-old boy who appears to be autistic but is also brilliant. He, in fact, came up with the idea for the gel everyone uses when outside which blocks the scents which attract the Hungries attention. They are also the two team members who have secrets to hide – Dr Khan has become pregnant, which was always going to be a problem on a year-long mission, and Stephen is sneaking out to study the Hungries at much closer quarters than is usually safe.

This is a sort of zombie novel but also one which looks at how people react to stressful circumstances. It is vaguely pleasing to see women in leadership positions but the reaction of the team to Stephen is sadly realistic – he is treated by most of the group as a liability, they feel he is just a child and that his autism makes him a danger to himself and others. I was fascinated by Stephen’s narration of events as he saw them too – he is pretty aware of how others see him but is absolutely certain of the validity of the work he is doing. When this work brings him face to face with a group of children who are living among the Hungries he realises they have found the anomaly they were searching for.

Jane

 

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Force of Nature – Jane Harper

I have a certain natural resistance to doing what I’m told. This seems to manifest itself mostly in my attitude to popular media (or even just critically acclaimed media) – if everyone starts to rave about a film, an album or a tv series I’m almost predisposed to decide not to bother with it. I’ve still never seen Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting or Game of Thrones for example. I don’t say this to sound superior – if you saw the list of films and tv shows I have seen you’d know I have to right to such a claim – but it is a fact. I am sure these are worth watching but I’ve just never got round to them and I don’t really care enough to remedy this. It is even more obvious with books – I only read To Kill a Mockingbird when they announced the publication of Go Set a Watchman – and I am probably more likely to avoid the books I am selling multiple copies of every day. I suppose with the books I have seen plot outlines, read reviews and seen comments from other booksellers so maybe I feel that I have little left to discover. But, sometimes, I do weaken. I read the book everyone is talking about and I find that I love it: I did this with Jane Harper’s first book, The Dry, and loved it so much I found myself leaping at the chance to read the follow-up.*

36116885Force of Nature, like The Dry, is set in the Australian outback and features Aaron Falk. He is a police officer with the now compulsory troubled past but, rather unusually, he is not a homicide detective. In fact he is part of a unit which investigates financial irregularities and this means that his methods are a bit less obvious: this is not the maverick cop solving the whole crime by looking at cigar ash but one who employs an interesting combination of accountancy and inspiration. He is a very human and relatable character. He is only involved in the mystery at the centre of this book, the disappearance of a woman on a team-building weekend in the wilds of the Giralang Ranges, because the woman is central to his investigations into the company she works for. The book moves between the police search for the missing woman and the events which led to her disappearance. We gradually discover more about the group of women she worked with, their interwoven lives both now and in the past, but we also see the character of Falk develop as he considers his relationship with his father.

This is a really good crime novel – a plot which is just complicated enough but also makes perfect sense once you get to the denouement – and has some interesting characters. It was a fairly quick and easy read but it sticks with you for a long time afterwards: just what popular fiction should be…

Jane

*Always happy to admit I was wrong…

Friend Request – Laura Marshall

As we’ve previously established psychological thrillers are still a thing. Quite a big thing, in fact. The original big sellers in the genre, Gone Girl and Girl On The Train, are still selling strongly and, more importantly, are still the books which new titles are compared to in marketing terms. This happens quite a lot, in many genres – there is a popular title and then a lot of titles hailed as ‘the next…’. David Walliams is the next Roald Dahl (and he really, kind of is…), every psychological thriller writer is the next Gillian Flynn and every children’s series with magic, wizardry or schools is the next Harry Potter. Interestingly we’ve been promised the next ‘His Dark Materials’ for the last 20 years as any high concept, literary fantasy series for young adults has come out. In the end, Philip Pullman has had to write it himself… Anyway, it seems that I’m digressing again so I’ll get back to the latest psychological thriller on my personal reading list – Friend Request by Laura Marshall…

friendrequestAlthough the main character in this book, Louise, is a woman around 40, a mother with a good career and a decent little flat in London the whole story revolves around her experiences as a teenager in a little East Anglian town. Torn between her need to fit in with the popular girls and her rapport with new girl, Maria, Louise allows herself to be drawn into bullying behaviour. Over two decades later she gets a friend request from Maria on Facebook and doesn’t know how to react – because, as far as she knows, Maria died at their leaver’s dance back in 1989… The plot swings back and forth between the present day – with more Facebook messages and a school reunion – and 1989 until the mysteries of both past and present are revealed.

This was a good psychological thriller – and for once the narrator wasn’t so much unreliable as unaware of how much she didn’t really understand about her own childhood. She is, to all intents and purposes, a strong woman with a successful business and a bright, loving child but – in her own private thoughts and memories she is still under the influence of the bullies from her teen years. She blames herself for actions she was, in many ways, to weak to resist being bullied into herself. I really enjoyed this book – I didn’t work out what the twist was until shortly before it twisted – but only quibble is that she and her best friend seem to drive everywhere in London. Who can afford that?

Jane