This review forms part of this months Hodderscape Review Project.
This month’s Hodderscape title was The First Stone by Elliott Hall, a book I read a few years ago and reviewed on Amazon. I’ve republished that review on the blog.
I’m shocked and appalled to discover it’s nearly four and half years since I read The First Stone. Whilst I found it a little convoluted, its original and scarily plausible premise stuck with me. I certainly wanted to read its sequel. It took me a couple of years to buy The Rapture and a couple more to get around actually reading it. Like all book addicts I have far more books than I can actually read.
So, despite my being keen to read the follow up to an excellent book, who knows when it would have managed to claw its way to the top of my to-be-read pile? Fortunately Hoddescape intervened by giving it a passport to the summit. Rather reread book one I thought I’d try out the sequel and report back.
So here goes…
Ok, you probably want a little more than that.
I absolutely loved The Rapture. I’ve been on a dodgy reading streak recently but this is a quality novel. It’s inventive, exciting and thought provoking in equal measure, and a gorgeously rendered evolution of the P.I. novel; a dystoPIan novel, if I may.
The book is almost a prequel to 1984. Hall has deconstructed Big Brother’s regime and tried to examine how such a beast might be built. Following on from events in The First Stone, Felix Strange is investigating the disappearance of an old Army colleague; a man who saved his life. Isaac Taylor isn’t just missing, he’s ceased to exist. There is no record of him. Strange’s investigations reveal a shocking and deadly conspiracy.
It’s quite hard to explain just how good this book is. Strange has maintained his distinctive voice from the first book – a wise-cracking PI in the Marlowe mould. The central mystery is compelling, bolstered by flashbacks to a fictional near-future American occupation of Tehran.
Beyond that there is the fascinating analysis of a totalitarian regime in prototype. I don’t want to give too much away but Hall examines the various strands that a government might use to exert total control; fear, a common enemy, a riven population. He also explores what agencies might be used to bring these things about. The closer Strange comes to the truth the more sinister America’s Christian Fundamentalist leaders become.
The society constructed is a curious blend of Stalinist and Nazi oligarchy. Hall’s painstaking world construction is what make this novel so good. He has clearly done his research and sets out his vision with great clarity. This is a completely plausible work of speculative fiction and is all the more powerful for it. From looking at the paucity of reviews an Amazon these books are criminally under-read. They would appeal to fans of dystopian fiction as well as those who like a hard-bitten detective. It’s an ambitious melding but Hall pulls it off with aplomb.
One final recommendation, if you are enjoying the Fexlix Strange novels, do check out Jonathan Trigell’s Genus, another excellent dystoPIan novel.