This was an excellent, fast paced, exciting and compulsive story. Well told but very grim. If you can accept the harrowing portrayal of war in our time it’s well worth reading.
Pete Allman wakes one morning to discover the world is at war. He has a typical middle class family with a son just starting out in his own business, two daughters, one a typical teenager, and a beautiful wife, Ruth. He has a good a job as a computer programmer and a difficult past as a member of a bike gang which he has now put behind him. But he discovers that there’s a bloody war on and it affects every aspect of life.
The family are in the 21st Century and so they have mobile phones and computers but the internet has been turned off and, like everything else, the TV is obsessed with the war. Everyday life is similar to life in the second world war, with rationing, blackouts and propaganda despite the presence of modern day computers and weapons. This anachronism is deliberate on the part of the author (it is justified much later in the narrative) and it is quite effective as it brings the crass absurdity of the war effort into stark relief with a modern lifestyle.
Pete sees an old mate in a pub – now a blind veteran – but he is warned not to have anything to do with him – advice which Pete, to his regret, ignores. As a part of his job he is also given a list of names by the SSU (the secret service) which, at great personal risk, he copies to a memory stick and he then decides to pass on the memory stick to the veterans, only to find they are committing suicide with alarming regularity. And so he starts on a terrible journey into the world of war to meet up with the veterans in order to pass on the information.
The story is very well written. You follow Pete on his journey into hell, almost experiencing the terrible things that happen for yourself. The author presents all the worst bits of war in a steadily worsening set of scenarios. You keep reading to see how it is going to end but it just keeps getting worse and worse. The story also has some depth in the unremitting grimness on the brutalising nature of war. The desolation and despair in no-man’s-land is especially harrowing.
The pace of the story is perfect, quickly developing from the scenes of family and home into the shock and fear of a world at war. My main criticism is that, as the reader you can easily guess what might be happening long before Pete does even though you see everything through his eyes, but this is not a significant issue as it doesn’t give you any clue as to how it will end.
SPOILER WARNING. My other criticism is the final climax and the resolution which was just too bleak for me, even though the final scene may have provided some hope. I must admit, I was confused and unsure of what the final scene actually implied. END SPOILER WARNING
It is too difficult to list any awards for this novel as they would not do justice to it.
To summarise, this novel is grim and realistic, showing the awfulness of war, making it all the worse for being set in our modern times. It is frighteningly believable and, as I write this there are riots in London and other major cities, making it even more scary. Everyone should read this book. Not only to enjoy it, but, if enough people are watching, hopefully we will never reach the terrible situation described here. I recommend it but make sure you’ve something light to read afterwards.
Review by Wayne J. Harris