This is the first book I have read by Adam Nevill. I came upon his work by a rather circuitous route after reading the magazine Black Static and following links to the websites of Ray Cluley and Ted E Grau (another two authors I would strongly recommend checking out.)
Nevill is described by the Guardian newspaper as Britain’s answer to Stephen King, so with an accolade like that I had to take a closer look. In terms of similarities, Nevill clearly shares with King a deep respect and love of words, both in terms of their richness and their placement. It is immediately obvious that this English horror writer takes his time researching, editing, re-writing and writing again until he has a novel that could be compared to a polished jewel. At no time during the reading of ‘Lost Girl’ did I find any word wasted or any description indulged in too much. In fact, Nevill’s descriptions are what set him apart from many modern horror authors as they have the power to express the depth and the darkness of the human psyche (as well as the inhuman) in fresh, compelling ways.
And so to the story. I tend not to dwell on plot descriptions in my reviews as they run the risk of producing spoilers. In any case, there are plenty of web locations where you can read the blurb to his book. However, in terms of the bare bones, Lost girl is set in England a few decades hence and from the get-go we are confronted with the horrors of a world in rapid decline due to the ravages of global warming left unchecked. I know for a fact that Nevill spent a long time reading and researching the doomsday projections that could ensue from spiralling temperature increases and the concomitant food and water shortages, social unrest, massive upheaval of populations and any number of extreme weather events. In this respect, one of the main horror elements is the rising sense of panic amongst the international community, and the increasing futility of the humanitarian response. Both are richly described as the story unfolds without resorting to the clunkiness of narrator’s info-dump that can often accompany such apocalyptic scenarios. Having a science background myself I was impressed by the authenticity of the setting and the rising sense of dread as Nevill paints a picture of society breaking apart in terms of disease containment, food production and crime running rampant.
The second element of horror is the fear which all parents have – the abduction of a child. The emotions of the father and his wife, together with the breakdown in their relationship echoes real life examples we have all read about in the UK media over the last decade.
We never learn the father’s name during the course of the story. A touch which entices any father to empathise with the agonising decisions the protagonist is forced to make. This generic father figure gives us an open door to step into the shoes of a man who has had his four year old daughter snatched away, facing an unknown fate which is only revealed at the end of the book. Through the many confrontations of this ‘Red Father’ with a trail of seedy and abhorrent characters, we see a man sucked onto a conveyer belt of barbarity and self-judgement. Don’t expect any Steven Seagal/Schwarzenegger bravado in this tale. The father is a novice in the ways of violence, with only the burning heat of his loss to sustain him.
The final element of terror is the realisation there may be another dark force taking advantage of civilisations breakdown. It is this subtle hinting and suggestion of another reality which prevents the story falling into familiar tropes. The emergence of a ‘King Death’, a ‘patron’ and a possible disciple in the form of an emaciated, drug-addled antagonist that completes the triangulation of horror. The style is reminiscent of John Connoly’s Charlie Parker stories and is masterfully handled.
Some of Nevill’s descriptive passages extend to several pages; such as the painting of urban communities coping with the influx of refugees by the million, the awkward and brutal scenes depicted as the initially naive father takes on the criminal underworld, and the surreal dreamscapes he endures as his quest leads him toward a realm that defies description. Again, this is not self-indulgent but serves to increase the intensity of the story.
This is a disturbing book – the best horror is. It will lead you to question your own world-view and where you draw your own lines in the sand regarding the issues raised. But, make no mistake; there is no preaching in this narrative, just a vision of what might be extrapolated from events we see around us today. It will entertain and provoke you. Definitely one of my top reads of 2016.
Star rating: *****
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/144724091X
Amazon US: https://amzn.com/144724091X
Adam’s website: http://www.adamlgnevill.com/