Written by Matt Hilton — Carter Bailey is called to Conn Island, a small, weather blasted land mass in the Shetland Islands. His summoner is Paul Broom, his best friend and bestselling author of horror and fantasy stories. Broom believes there’s an evil presence stalking the island and that Bailey can track it down and eliminate it. But first Broom must convince Bailey of its existence.
In the recent past Bailey has survived an attack by his serial killer brother, Cash. He survived but his wife and unborn child were murdered. Now Cash’s spirit co-exists within Bailey – two very different minds within one body. Before the attack Bailey was a successful businessman, but the trauma changed him irrevocably. Lots of lurid newspaper stories made Bailey the centre of attention for a while. With Broom’s help, Bailey recovered and now begins to learn he has some extraordinary abilities, caused by his horrific experiences and the malevolent personality squatting inside him. Bailey has become a magnet for evil – it is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
Over recent months, Broom has been troubled by several mysterious and unusual incidents – unexplained disappearances, unfortunate accidents and even deaths. As he arrives on the island a young boy is found mutilated, literally torn to shreds. The police suspect Bailey may be involved because he is a new face. But Broom has other ideas. He believes an archaeological dig that started the same time as the troubles unleashed a dangerous spirit, one rumoured to have wandered the island long ago. Only Bailey can seek it out.
This is a crime thriller with a difference. The author successfully weaves together supernatural elements, mythology and a taut murder mystery. With stories like this there’s the opportunity for the narrative to go off track and for things to get silly. But the author’s skillful handling of the plot holds it all together and produces something enticing, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. He writes with strength and conviction.
The story is told from Bailey’s perspective in the first person, and a mixture of other players such as Sergeant McCusker, the most senior officer on the island, an archaeologist, Janet and the killer written in the third person. Chapters alternate between the two types of account.
The characterisation is strong. Besides the excellent Bailey and Broom there’s the aforementioned McCusker. She’s struggling to make head or tale of the case, more used to the run of the mill events on the small island. She’s also unwittingly developing a relationship with her partner, the junior policeman Bob. Janet is also excellent, she’s the love interest for Bailey, which creates an additional level of tension as the killer targets her. A particularly good episode is when Janet is attacked and Bailey comes to her rescue. We see him accepting more of his abilities through these events, a classic case of show, not tell.
The Shetland Island setting (albeit fictional) and the associated foul weather provide a suitably morose backdrop to the almost relentless action through which Hilton gradually steps up the tension as Bailey and Broom close in. As a result I found myself keen to reach the conclusion, which was well done and produced a strong twist at the end. Overall a great read for those who enjoy something a little beyond the norm.
Sempre Vigile Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars