The Spiral by Iain Ryan

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on The Spiral by Iain Ryan. this is the first book I’ve read by this author and I have to admit to being intrigued by the marketing campaign surrounding it. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy of the book. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Netgalley

About the Book


The utterly original and brilliantly compelling new thriller by twice Ned Kelly Award shortlisted author Iain Ryan.

Erma Bridges’ life is far from perfect, but entirely ordinary. So when she is shot twice in a targetted attack by a colleague, her quiet existence is shattered in an instant.

With her would-be murderer dead, no one can give Erma the answers she needs to move on from her trauma. Why her? Why now?

So begins Erma’s quest for the truth – and a dangerous, spiralling journey into the heart of darkness.

With all the inventiveness of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and the raw brutality of Mulholland Drive, THE SPIRAL is a unique crime thriller with killer twists – and 2020’s most jaw-dropping ending.

My Thoughts

I honestly do not know where to go with this review. It is either going to be very short or exceedingly long as I struggle to get to grips with what just happened. I’ll admit it – I was sucked in by a strong marketing campaign and I was intrigued to see what it as all about, this ‘gripping, inventive and unpredictable’ thriller … Well, unpredictable is right. Part thriller, part mystery and part fantasy/choose your own adventure-eque hybrid, this was not what I was expecting at all.

That’s not to say this was an entirely unpleasurable reading experience. It wasn’t. Not always at least. Parts of it were intriguing and entertaining. Author Iain Ryan has certainly done a brilliant job of creating the tension and also the mystery as our protagonist, Erma, struggles to come to terms with the fact that her once student and assistant, Jenny, has gone missing possibly after lodging a formal complaint about Erma’s behaviour. A complaint which, in Erma’s mind at least, has absolutely no merit. When an attempt is made on Erma’s life, the tension ratchets up and, like Erma, I really wanted to know what she could possibly have done that would make someone want to kill her so badly.

This is a college campus set thriller in part, and some of the story is given over to one of Erma’s colleagues, whose research is into women who have gone missing from campus over the years, never to be heard of again. This is another aspect of mystery or suspense that is woven into the story, subtly enough that you are always conscious of it but never so much that it takes over from the main plot. That remains about Erma’s obsession with finding the truth behind what happens to her and where the research that Jenny was doing on her behalf has disappeared to.

Now Erma’s research is for a book she is writing, one in which she needs to gain an interview with a reclusive writer famed for his fantasy adventure -or choose your own adventure novels to be more correct. Remember those? These are books that Erma had obsessed over as a child and the style of those books leaches into the everyday by way of Erma’s dreams, informing the narrative. And this is where the book gets a little … odd. It’s either exceedingly clever or utterly pretentious but you will have to read to decide which. To be fair Ryan does make a brilliant job of creating that otherworld, that dream place in which Erma’s search for the truth is mirrored in the dream protagonist – Sero’s – quest to recover his memories. The world is mutli-faceted, the many characters fully formed and believable. If you like Fantasy then I think you will love it. Half of the chapters are told from Erma’s perspective and half from Sero’s, although, towards the end, Sero very much takes over as Erma struggles to understand her current reality.

This is where I struggled. I don’t really like fantasy, haven’t ventured into that world in many a year. I have to admit to skim reading much of it, but still found myself able to follow it. It is also the point where the book takes a decidedly dark turn and whilst not graphic, plays out like the beginning of every misogynists wet dream. The various plot elements are drawn together in dramatic fashion but by this point, after such a long and complicated build up, it felt a little rushed, far too preposterous and perhaps even a touch too convenient? And don’t even get me started on the fight sequences. Feminists beware.

If you like crime mystery, suspense and fantasy, maybe you will get more from this book than I did and I certainly wouldn’t want my thoughts to put you off. Every book has it’s perfect audience, right? It’s certainly quite unique but there is something about it which has left me uncertain, unfulfilled and maybe just a little bit angry. Perhaps because I never fully gelled with Erma. I certainly didn’t feel anything but anger for her circumstances (?) at the end of the book. Completely unnecessary. Bizarrely it is the fantasy hero, Sero, I was more interested in, despite not liking the genre.

You get a great sense of place and the tension and pace and action really pick up in the latter stages of the book, but it was just too far adrift of the crime genre for me to appreciate the full package. I didn’t entirely hate it – the premise is sound – but I certainly didn’t love it and I’d say that I am still stuck on that fence, not sure on which side I’m finally going to fall

About the Author

Iain Ryan is an Australian writer who lives in Melbourne. He is the author of two previous novels Four Days (2015) and The Student (2017), both shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award.

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