Four caravans, four families inside waking up to a horrifying new reality. They, their cars and caravans, even their pets, are no longer where they were located when everyone went to bed the night before. It seems that their world has somehow moved on, taking them away from their Swedish holiday camping ground to a new place that only superficially resembles where it is that they came from. Acres and acres of grass that is yet not grass. An endless sky, and the frustration of having no landmarks in a sterile and unpopulated landscape. But is it truly empty?
The central premise in I AM BEHIND YOU is simply delicious. The environment is both alien and familiar and so are the reactions of the characters to their new altered reality. It is impossible not to project yourself into this novel and wonder what your own behaviour and thinking would be like – would you accept, would you challenge, would you seek and be capable of escape? Would you throw everybody else under the bus in order to keep yourself alive or would you stoically band together with your new comrades to fight the common evil that threatens you all?
A small or restricted setting will always sharpen the focus on the interactions of the cast (also small here) and this does present its own challenges. There needs to be a good balance of the present day conflict as to what each character will carry as baggage into their shared encounters. Lindqvist’s talent in exposing the truer nature of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances is evident once again in I AM BEHIND YOU. The horror lays in how quickly in this apocalyptic situation that people will show their true colours, acting selfishly in order to protect themselves and their own. Societal norms go out the window in a shockingly short period of time. Suppressed thoughts, emotions, traits are all given freedom to rise to the surface and ride over the veneer of civility we all struggle to maintain.
The “woo-woo” inclusion in this novel did tend to be a bit aimless and certainly wasn’t its strength – the work put into character development was. Not knowing what was memory and what the characters were seeing was annoying more than a few times. The ethereal slippage between the worlds was interesting, though more resolution or explanation would have been greatly welcomed.
Dive in and question it yourself!
Review - THE DARK, VM Giambanco
Seattle Homicide Detective Alice Madison is bound to jailed murderer John Cameron and attorney Nathan Quinn by a debt that cannot be repaid, by a nightmare that changed their lives forever.
When the remains of Quinn’s younger brother – murdered when he was a boy – are discovered in a shallow grave, Madison vows to follow the trail of brutal deaths that leads to the truth.
A sadistic killer stalks the investigation as Madison’s own demons threaten her future career with the police and darkness closes in. How far is she prepared to go to save a life?
The Dark is Valentina Gaimbanco's follow up to her debut novel The Gift of Darkness. The events of the new novel follow hard on the heels of the first and in some ways, this sequel fills in much of the backstory of key characters from her debut. Set in and around Seattle, the novel is full of twisted souls and moody scenery and Giambanco effectively ratchets up the tension from early on.
Detective Alice Madison is still psychologically scarred by the events of the previous novel which saw her hunting down Salinger, the man who kidnapped her godchild. She was helped in that search by a lawyer, Nathan Quinn, and his dangerous client, old friend and suspected killer Jack Cameron. At the start of The Dark, Madison is in therapy, Quinn is in hospital and Cameron is in solitary confinement for his own safety. When the remains of Nathan's brother, killed 25 years earlier, are found in the same forest where she battled Salinger for her life and Nathan puts a public bounty on information leading to his brother's killer, Madison is drawn back into the orbit of the lawyer and the killer.
The Dark can be confusing at first for those who who haven't read The Gift of Darkness, particularly with its two prologues and short point of view jumps. But it does not take long to pick up the character threads and the new threat that emerges as the cold case starts to heat up. The Dark quickly becomes compulsive as details of the past emerge and the threat starts to materialise in the form of a gang of resourceful killers. Giambanco intercuts the stories of Madison, Cameron and Quinn to great effect as the climax rushes forward, her only slip being to cut away from Cameron just as he is at his most vulnerable.
The plot contains many familiar elements of the genre - a cold case, a rookie detective drawn into breaking the rules and forming a relationship with criminals and moments of extreme violence. Giambanco has managed to put all of this together into a thrilling package with memorable characters and, for an expat Italian living in London, a real sense of place.