Written by Max Kinnings — In the bathroom of an evangelical Christian commune in the Welsh hills, an elderly monk is found stabbed to death. Three of the younger members – an ex-soldier, and a brother and sister traumatised as children by a savage murder-suicide – have fled the monastic farmhouse and are heading towards London, armed to the teeth. Their disappearance is quickly noted by Brother Varick, a former member of the New Orleans Police Department who seeks religious redemption. Events in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have scarred his life for ever.
In a nondescript semi in South London, George Wakeham – failed rock star, writer, visionary and political activist, but moderately successful train driver – struggles out of bed for another shift. He wakes his wife, cuddles his two children, pulls on his Transport for London uniform and heads for New Malden depot for what he expects will be another dull but worthy day’s work on the Northern Line. Instead, thanks to his innocent but careless frankness on an online forum he is plunged into a day of terror that he could never have imagined, let alone written about.
Detective Inspector Ed Mallory gets ready for the new day in his smart West End flat. He can only imagine the glorious summer morning and the cloudless blue skies over London because he was blinded in a bomb blast years before. The explosion was the conclusion of a hostage situation that he – as chief negotiator – was expected to resolve. His failure that day literally scarred him for life, but has enhanced his remaining senses to the extent that he is the go-to man when subtle nuances and minor voice inflections can mean the difference between life or death.
These characters collide in a novel of almost unbearable tension. Everything happens in real-time. That sounds easy, but it requires something more than descriptive clock-face chapter headings. The narrative darts back and forth between the different viewpoints, and the claustrophobia of sitting in a stationary underground train on a searingly hot summer day is vividly described. George Wakeham is an unlikely hero, but his struggle to comprehend the extremes of evil which he faces makes us admire him even more.
I was never totally convinced by the psychopathic twins – Belle and Tommy – who spearhead the assault on train 037. As the body count increases, and their murder spree continues, I found myself asking, ‘Yes, but why?” despite Tommy’s extreme religious ramblings. Some of the violence seems almost casual, a bit like a shoot-em-up game, and I felt that the impetus of the narrative flagged in the third quarter, before the nail-biting and scary denouement.
However credit is due to an author who can describe almost every minute of a 10-hour day of tension, terror and turmoil, and still keep you turning the pages. The most vibrant and heart-warming character is George. As death and devastation unfold around him, he realises that his fantasies of fame are worthless. Under unimaginable physical and mental pressure from a deranged religious zealot, he longs for nothing more than the ordinary things of home, such as being able to experience once more the fragrance of his daughter’s freshly-shampooed hair. This is an audacious and ambitious novel which misses top marks only by the thickness of a cigarette paper.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars