(2015) Adam Nevill, Pan, £7.99, pbk, 438pp, ISBN 978-1-447-24091-4
I was lucky enough to be at the launch of Lost Girl at last year’s Fantasycon in Nottingham. As you would expect with a writer of Nevill’s calibre the place was packed and there was probably no need for the added inducement of a free beer for the lucky first fifty or so in the queue, even if Paul Meloy, who also launched his own novel The Night Clock at the same convention was on barman duties.
In common with a lot of other great writers, Nevill’s strength is that his novels are all very different, and he has really raised the bar this time by taking the current world we live in and examining what might happen in the future and given it his own unique horror twist. Imagine the way we live now: climate change causing droughts, famine and flooding; energy supplies running out, or becoming harder and more expensive to extract; never-ending wars causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee from their homes; nuclear tensions between nations; human trafficking on the rise, and the widening gap between the haves and have nots. In Nevill’s novel we are in 2053 and climate change has left billions homeless and starving – easy prey for the pandemics that sweep across the globe, scything through the refugee populations. Easy prey, too, for the violent gangs and people-smugglers who thrive in the crumbling world where 'King Death' reigns supreme.
This is the backdrop of the novel where the Father's world went to hell two years ago when his four-year-old daughter was snatched from his garden when he should have been watching. The moments before her disappearance play in a perpetual loop in his mind. But the police aren't interested; amidst floods, hurricanes and global chaos, who cares about one more missing child? She’s not a priority so down to him to find her, him alone, and he won’t stop until he finds her, or dies trying, and he will try – do – anything to bring her back.
What Nevill does brilliantly is take a dystopian horror scenario and takes it down to a personal level by having a father –The Father – going on a quest in a warped society to find the daughter that went missing almost under his nose. Nevill cleverly never names the girl’s father reducing him to a slightly remote, distant figure, while at the same time making him an everyman, and every-father, he could be anyone, he could be me, or you, and what length’s would you go to in a collapsing society to find your little girl especially when you blame yourself for her going missing. What lengths would you go to get her back? How far would you go? What rules would you break in a world that is virtually lawless?
Lost Girl might remind you of Stephen King’s novel Cell where a father searches for his son in an world after a mobile phone pulse has changed those that hear it into zombie-like creatures; although I was more reminded of Conrad Williams’ brilliant novel One which is a book of two halves, where a simple sentence heralds a descent into a nightmare world in the second half of the novel. For in Lost Girl we are one with the Father as he tries to navigate through a nightmarish England where the police are next to useless and gangs control their own territories, following every lead he can to get his daughter back. Then the tone changes and becomes more supernatural as we enter the realm of King Death.
Nevill has clearly done his research (and he lists what sources he did read at the end of the book) and it shows. Given the simple title of the book, you might make the mistake of thinking you are in Gillian Flynn crime/thriller territory here. Big mistake, this is horror at the cutting edge and you can expect Nevill to add to his award tally with this one. Recommended.
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