(2016) M. R. Carey, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, 487pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50358-5
Well, what do you do if you have written a well-received zombie novel that has been turned into a film, with you writing the original (and slightly different version from the book) screenplay? Iím talking about The Girl With All the Gifts, that word-of-mouth bestseller, according to the sticker on the front of Fellside Well, you write something completely different, like all good writers do.
M. R. Carey is known to most people as Mike Carey, author of the Felix Castor novels and gazillions of comic books for DC like the Lucifer series and Fantastic Four and X-Men for Marvel. Orbit decided to give him a Banksian (the late Iain Banks, that is, not the artist) face-lift by giving a name change which was initially going to be M. J. Carey as his middle name is James, but since there is a writer of erotica out there called M. J. Carey, he is now M. R. Carey instead and 'M. R.' has a familiar ring to it, if only I could remember from where...
Gulp, I thought, hefting Fellside which is almost 500 pages long, but told over 100 chapters, but it instantly grabs the attention as Jess Moulson wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange room in a strange place, not sure who she is, where she is, why she is there, but somehow she knows that things are very, very wrong evidenced by the fact that she can hardly talk and her face feels...wrong. Her paranoia and fear are stoked even further with the knowledge that a policewoman is outside her room. Not to protect her, but to protect other people as she is 'The Inferno Killer' who caused the death of a ten year old boy when she was off her face on heroin, and sheís lost part of her face to the fire she started. She cannot Ė wonít - believe it, the boy was Alex, a lost, little troubled soul she had befriended even if her dodgy boyfriend didnít like the relationship that was blossoming between them and the attention it might draw to them, two drug takers. Now Alex is dead and Jess is heading to Fellside a maximum security prison and the inmates, and staff who are waiting for her, but something else is waiting for her too, and something from her past is waiting to rise to the surface, something that has been hidden for years, out of sight, out of mind, an ability she possessed but lost after a course of therapy she had as a child, but she has never been free of it, not really and its time is now.
Fellside is uniquely its own. Beautifully written, and very poetic in places, but not quite to the dizzy heights of that poet of the horror novel, Conrad Williams. Despite the cleverness and turn of phrase within the covers, Fellside is not an easy read which isnít surprising, considering Carey is delving into the mind and world of a drug addict, and at one point, a hunger-striker determined to starve herself to death. Fellside by its nature is a bleak, terrible place and you have to have done some terrible things to end up there and be prepared to keep doing them if you want to survive. Thus, we meet Grace a prisoner who runs Jessí block, and 'Devlin the Devil', one of the prison staff, and a whole host of other well-drawn characters. In some scenes I was reminded of the opening powerful chapters of Nancy Collinsí novel Sunglasses After Dark, the first of her Sonja Blue series when Sonja is institutionalised and wanders through the minds of her fellow inmates.
I caught up with Carey at this yearís Fantasycon in Scarborough and had a chat with him about the work of the American poet, Wallace Stevens (check out Stephen Kingís Salemís Lot if you do not know who that is), and asked him when the next Felix Castor novel by Mike Carey is coming out. Not for a long time, it seems as Orbit would much rather see books by M. R. Carey in the meantime: damn those corporate giants, I need my gumshoe exorcist fix!
See also Arthur's take on Fellside.
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