I’m not entirely sure that reading a book about a mutant and potentially deadly form of tinnitus is really a wise idea while suffering from a chronic bout of tinnitus, but I read a book about a world in which antibiotics no longer really work whilst in the midst of a pandemic, so it’s not like I don’t have form. This book intrigued me, I bought a copy at Harrogate, and it made my reading list. Simple as. Here’s what it’s about:
About the Book
It starts quietly enough. A tick tick ticking you can hear in your ear. Tinnitus, you think. It will pass. But it doesn’t. It gets worse. And then you pass it on…
Before you know it, it spreads. Elsewhere across the globe, it emerges: small outbreaks at first, but then suddenly it’s a plague – and only days later it is already killing people.
In an increasingly affected north London school, teacher Kit Chaplin is struggling to understand what he is witnessing. Even Lilly Slater, his partner and an eminent vaccinologist, can’t work out what’s happening. As it spreads, little by little, they are inexorably drawn into the mystery behind the illness. And what they discover will change the world as they know it…
Exciting and urgently contemporary, this piercingly insightful novel tells the story of a global catastrophe through the eyes of the three people at the heart of the storm.
I really enjoyed this thriller. Fast paced, intriguing and thought provoking, there’s actually a hell of a lot about it that is entirely plausible, even if some of it tends towards a speculative future. With characters who I connected with really quickly, there is a lot to be celebrated in this latest thriller from Simon Mayo and, far from being a turn off – a post pandemic novel about an entirely new kind of pandemic – I found I read through it in double quick time.
One of the key things that drew me into the story were the characters, namely Kit, his daughter Rose and his partner, vaccinologist Lilly. I found that I became invested in them really quickly. Kit as the single father struggling to connect to an increasingly distant daughter whilst navigating a new relationship was someone I had full sympathy for. His determination to get to the bottom of what is going on with the students who are starting to present with new, unexplained symptoms, is echoed by his daughter’s insistence that something needs to be done, and Rose’s fierce independence and rallying makes her immediately likeable, especially given the opening to the novel.
The book does have echoes of the covid pandemic, especially in the early days where people are dismissive of the symptoms and reluctant to declare any kind of emergency, even when the spread of the disease escalates. Having lived through the pandemic, it’s almost possible to predict the course of vents, how the reactions to the endemic situation will escalate and, the way in which the prejudices of those who are ‘clean’ burst forth when faced with an infected person are very reminiscent of the cross border antagonism that existed as the course of the pandemic was plotted across the country and fears escalated about the disease with no known cure. There were times I felt my emotions heightened, not just because of what might happen to the protagonists, but what was happening to those around them. The memory of that indiscriminate loss is still very fresh and enough to trigger those underlying emotions.
There are many puzzling threads in this book, secrets to be uncovered and surprising links between past and present which hold the key to containing this new pandemic. The science in the book is well explained and not overwhelming, but also not glossed over to make it feel like a secondary concern to the main action. The pacing slowly increases as the threat to our main characters grows, and the escalation in pace matches the growth in anger and instability of the population.
The ultimate cause of this pandemic? Very plausible if a little problematic. I won’t say too much about it, but given diplomatic tensions of the past few years and escalating tensions across the globe, it’s not impossible that this kind of catastrophic event could result, especially now. In fact some might argue its a very brave time to be release in this kind of book, with some of the plot drawn from such recent history that it still feels extremely fresh and raw.
A really intriguing premise and good plotting, backed by great characters that I felt a real kind of protectiveness towards made this a great summer read. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
Simon Mayo MBE is a writer and broadcaster. His previous books include the Sunday Times bestseller Knife Edge, Mad Blood Stirring, Blame and the Itch trilogy, filmed for TV by the ABC. He hosts Drivetime on Greatest Hits Radio and hosts the ‘The Take’ film-review podcast with Professor Mark Kermode.
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