A gripping story let down by its final act. 4/5 stars.
Thank you to Penguin UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.
Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington
Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead
Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm
Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.
Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.
Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.
As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?
This is certainly an attention-grabbing scenario! You may read the blurb and think, “yeah, but how real will the story seem?” The answer? Scarily so. Maybe it’s because the narrator is a historian and attempting to record everything as factually as possible that makes the narrative feels very realistic. The reactions of all the characters to the end-of-the-world scenario are believable and as varied as they are. The hotel guests are an interesting mix of nationalities and personalities which makes for some dramatic clashes. Also, obviously, being cut off from the world with winter setting in and food supplies dwindling puts pressure on everyone that has to boil over in places.
Add to an already tense situation the discovery of a child’s body and the suspicion there’s a murderer somewhere in the hotel (who may even be undiscovered – it’s such a huge building, they could be lurking!) and the story becomes incredibly gripping. There are also effectively spooky sections: The Shining is referenced in places, which helped me picture long deserted corridors with goodness knows what skulking round every corner. A few nail-biting scenes feature footsteps heard in dark corridors and being in a room as the door handle starts to rattle.
Although this is all a hypothetical situation, the author is clearly rooting her narrative in present-day events. Several references are made to the US President having set the disastrous chain of nuclear events in motion and, while it’s never made explicit, it’s easy to assume the current US President is the one they have in mind. I also felt the way we’re told events played out on social media was spot on: I think we can all imagine how the world will end not with a bang, but with a series of notifications. Indeed, by about halfway through I did start to wonder if I should buy a few more powerbanks and hoarde toothpaste.
So far, so great. Unfortunately, I felt everything began to unravel at around 80% into the book. Up to this point I had been thoroughly gripped. There was terrific potential for the plot strands to play out in many exciting ways, but I felt the ending was rather flat and rushed.
On the positive side, everything does get wrapped up neatly. So if you hate open endings, you don’t have to worry about that! I just hoped all the mysteries, chilling discoveries, suspicions, drama, people shouting and pointing guns at each other would lead to a more explosive conclusion. I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but I was just disappointed that the story didn’t go somewhere spectacular.
Overall: an explosive opening leads into a gripping story with interesting characters which is sadly let down by a flat finish.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul