I haven’t reviewed any books for a while and then along come two at once — Afterlight by Alex Scarrow and The Payback by Simon Kernick — both of them thrillers that tidy up loose ends for the author and which don’t quite work for that very reason.
Alex Scarrow is the brother of historical fiction author, Simon Scarrow, but Alex has taken an entirely different route. He has written four novels so far and does a nice line in concurrent plots set in the past and present. October Skies and A Thousand Suns were both enjoyable four out of five star reads.
In between these titles, he wrote Last Light based on the very scary Peak Oil scenario which he made all the scarier by imagining what would happen if the world’s oil supplies were switched off over night and the chaos and anarchy that would ensue in our oil dependent society.
He did this by following the fortunes of the Sutherland family who begin the book separated. Andy Sutherland is in Iraq working as an engineer; Jenny is in Manchester for an interview; daughter Leona is studying at the University of Norwich and; seven year old Jacob is at boarding school in London. The plot involves their attempts to be reunited.
Afterlight picks up the story ten years later. Scarrow says that it was a far more interesting exercise to look at a world long after the dust has settled. Last seen on a commune in Wales, the now widowed Jenny Sutherland leads another group of survivors on a gas rig in the North Sea. How she got to the rig and managed to climb it when she did isn’t explained.
With her are her daughter Leona, now a mother herself, and son Jacob, a young man who longs for the lost world of bright lights and X-box games long gone.
There are various messianic figures, but the nub of the story is the inevitable conflict between those who have come to terms with a world without oil who want to lead cleaner, greener lives and the remnants of the old world who want to hang on to the consumerist, disposable past.
Last Light reminded me quite a lot of The Survivors novel, based on the original BBC series of the 1970s — a believable tale of the apocalypse — and similarly, Afterlight is like the post-apocalyptic follow-ups to Survivors which became more a re-working of epic legend.
Last Light completes the story, but the conclusion is less than satisfactory and gets a three out of five from me.
Kernick’s style is straight forward — pedal to the metal paced thrillers, gritty in their detail, but with enough twists in the plot to keep you interested.
The Payback brings together two characters who appeared in earlier novels. Dennis Milne is the former London detective turned vigilante assassin through his disillusionment with the justice system, escaping justice himself by fleeing to a new life in the far east.
Tina Boyd is another police detective who has seen friends and lovers die through a high-level conspiracy of people involved in a paedialphilia ring. At the heart of this is uber-villain, Paul Wise, who has so far escaped justice in previous novels and The Payback does exactly what it says on the cover.
Milne and Boyd have never met before, but come together in Manila to track down Wise.
The pace is fast and furious as I’ve come to expect from Kernick, but somehow it didn’t work quite so well this time. The two main protagonists are well drawn, but most of the bad guys are two-dimensional caricatures and Paul Wise is almost see through. There is also the issue of a dirty-bomb to be sold to shadowy extremists that doesn’t really fit in the plot somehow.
As I said at the start, it feels as though Kernick wanted to tie up previous loose ends and that it was a rushed job, giving Milne and Boyd their swan song at the expense any great care to explain the motivations of the evil forces ranged against them
I suspect it is likely that there will be more Tina Boyd books which might take her into new areas of vice and righteous vengeance, but The Payback warrants only three or four out of five.