Fiction Reviews

Tick Tock

(2022) Simon Mayo, Doubleday, £14.99, hrdbk, 359pp, ISBN 978-0-857-52661-8


Yes, the Simon Mayo: the BBC radio presenter! So this is another of those books written by people youíve heard of in another life. I think heís a good radio presenter. He was a good DJ back on Radio 1 (Iím old, I know) and his film review podcast with Mark Kermode is most entertaining. But a writer? Iím assuming he didnít have the same kind of hassle the rest of us face in getting a publishing deal, but you never know. So the cynic in me opened the pages of Tick Tock warily, but hey, for all their limitations I enjoyed Richard Osmanís runaway bestsellers, so maybe media personalities can be the next Booker winners?

Tick Tockís not going to win the Booker. Or the Hugoís. But itís considerably more entertaining than Iíd expected, and Iím happy to give it a cautious thumbs up.

The plot doesnít break much new ground and I think itís too early for a novel like this, but this kicks off as a pandemic story about a new disease in its early stages. It veers off into espionage thriller before the bodies start to pile up, but the gist is that kids in a London school start to get a ticking in their ears, which leads to deafness, which leads to death. Soon there are outbreaks throughout London and elsewhere, including a cluster in Salisbury, where much of the action takes place (expect a connection with real events). The story follows Kit, Head of English, and his daughter Rose, plus his girlfriend Lilly, who helpfully turns out to be a virologist. Roseís friend starts ticking and so Rose sets up a WhatsApp group to gather stories, starts a school closure protest, is blamed for a hospital riot and attracts the interest of the press. Lillyís estranged father has just died too, but thereís something odd about the mourners in the crematorium. Jess, Rose and Kit flee to Salisbury (where all plot threads lead) to find answers. Various Government agencies start to show an interest, and theyíre not all benign.

All tenuously sci-fi, of course, but it is an extrapolation of current trends and past events so it just about slips under the wire, though I suspect Mayo and his publishers would describe it as a thriller (and I doubt youíll find it on the sci-fi shelves). Grounding it in a London school makes it more prosaic than Iíd like, and the tight character focus means the wider pandemic story never gets a chance to properly develop. Itís a slow burn too, but itís an easy read and I didnít see the twist coming, which always suggests good writing to me. Some of the cover quotes are hyperbolic, so Iíd advise ignoring them (you really canít Ďfeel the tension and fear in every pageí) but itís competent enough. And entertaining.

Mark Bilsborough


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