Asylum by Marcus Low

Asylum: “the most credible – and therefore the most disturbing – dystopian novel I [have] ever read”- SUNDAY TIMES is a fascinating read. It is set in a place called the Pearson Quarantine facility, where patients have been forcibly detained because they are suffering from a terminal disease called ‘pulmonary nodulosis.’ This condition is so rampant that it has reached the level of a plague. There is no cure for the condition and sufferers gradually die as their lungs get increasingly scarred. [Note – This story was actually based on the real life enforced hospitalisation of patients with drug resistant tuberculosis in 2008 in South Africa].

The book follows the narrative of patient Barry James who keeps a diary of his experiences at Pearson. There are short introductions to his diary entries written after the fact, that sometimes factually refute what you are about to read. This is an interesting idea as you then read the entry in a more objective way.

Some of Barry’s experiences are dream type scenarios. Low successfully captures the strange dreaminess of what it is like when one is fevered and ill and have limited ability to tell fiction from reality. You begin to wonder how much of the visions that Barry experiences are induced by the symptoms of the illness or the drugs that he is given. Barry sees characters who keep appearing and disappearing which add an element of creepiness to the story.

You learn quite early on that the protagonist may not be a reliable narrator and this device is used to full effect during his counselling sessions when he reveals something that happened from his past. This incident makes you temporarily lose sympathy for the character until you read on and realise that it may never have actually happened. (My lips are sealed so you need to read the book to find out what I’m referring to here!). Overall, you do have sympathy towards the character who is stuck in this enforced limbo and is a young victim of a dreadful disease.

Asylum reminds me of one of my favourite books, The Outsider by Albert Camus. Though there are differences in the settings of both books, there is a similarity in the observant nature of the protagonists. Low writes Barry as projecting a feeling of not being connected to events in some way, producing a distancing effect which is very hard to successfully achieve in writing, but which Low creates with aplomb.

This is a fascinating story that has a dark, dreamlike quality. It has already been shortlisted for at least one prize and I can easily see it being listed and winning many book awards in the future. I can also see it being adapted for a film. So, go ahead and read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Skin by Liam Brown

Skin is the third dystopian novel I’ve read recently so I feel like I’m on a dystopian roll at the moment but realise that the increase in dystopian fiction is due to the state of the world we’re living in which looks increasingly uncertain and bleak. In times of heightened uncertainty, a desire for control takes over and control is one of the key themes in Skin. Skin is the fourth book Liam Brown has published and it is an assured and confident read.

Skin is set in a future UK. A global virus has wiped out many populations and martial law prevails. It turns out that the virus is caused by touch as people have become allergic to other people’s skin dander. The only remedy for survival is to live in completely incubated sterilized rooms separate from family members. To ensure the population continues, women donate eggs to a fertility service that are artificially fertilised by donor sperm. People are not really allowed to venture outside as it is considered too dangerous, but if they do so, they must wear a full hazmat suit and spend time afterwards in a quarantine room at the entrance of their home.

We observe Angela, a middle aged mother of teenagers, the fitness crazed Amber and the surly computer obsessed Charlie. She works from home in marketing and her husband, Charlie works for a firm that creates virtual reality experiences for rich clients. They communicate once a day through a computer screen.

The prospect of having an opportunity to venture outside by joining the neighbourhood watch team is too great a chance for Angela to miss and she relishes the opportunity to do so. On one of her patrols she notices how much nature has taken over the ruined landscape of the city. She meets the rebel, Jazz or Jason Freeman, an alternative young man who lives in an abandoned school and wears no hazmat suit. Is he perhaps the answer the world has been looking for? A person immune to the deadly virus? I can’t really say anymore without giving the game away but I will say that this is a thrilling read that is beautifully written. It certainly brings up a lot of questions and is relevant to today’s society in that we are becoming an increasingly digitised world but levels of loneliness and social isolation are increasing too in kind. It seems the more connected we become to our screens the more disconnected we become from one another. This is a huge message that pervades through this book though there are others too that you’ll have to discover when you read it for yourself!

Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre


Fallen Angel concerns mysterious past events surrounding the Temple family, who return to their Portuguese villa for a final holiday after the death of their family patriarch, Max. The story is set in both the present day and in 2002, the year of Niamh Temple’s disappearance. Niamh went missing as a young child and there are echoes here of the Madeline McCann case.

Speculation is rife amongst the characters in the story as to what actually happened to the little girl. There are moments in the book where almost everyone who was present in 2002 is a suspect. Matriarch Celia Temple is an extremely narcissistic character. She used to be an actress on British television in the 1970s and still sees herself exactly as she was then. Her husband Max was also an unlikeable character, a psychology professor who became famous by appearing on a TV show debate debunking conspiracy theories.

The Temple’s have three grown up children. Marion the eldest is the kindest but is viewed as being too homely and weak by her mother. She is married to Ken, a plumber who is handsome but who Celia feels is beneath her socially. Robbyn the son, is also seen as a disappointment. He is a bit of a drifter and is easily taken advantage of by other people. Ivy, the youngest of the Temple clan has a successful career in PR and is distant and aloof with her family. Despite her career success, Celia seems to have a strong dislike to Ivy in particular that is out of proportion with her general dislike of her children overall.

Into this toxic miasma, the present day situation introduces: Kirsten, the new young wife of villa neighbour Vince and their son baby Arron. Accompanying them is Amanda, a Canadian Au Pair. Amanda serves as a detective who starts to look into the past to see what really happened in 2002.

I think that the setting of this Mediterranean paradise (that is really rotten to the core because of the people involved), is excellent and compellingly written. There are many twists and turns to the narrative and it went in a direction that I did not expect and could not foresee which is a great sign of a very strong psychological thriller. I recommend that you pick up this book as a chilling holiday read.

Poster Boy by NJ Crosskey

Poster Boy is a dystopian thriller set in a not too distant future Britain. This Britain is scarily not dissimilar in some ways from the one we know today. The country has become polarised with the ERP controlling the UK like a totalitarian government. The ERP are an extremely nationalist and racist party and blame all of the UK’s problems on immigration and terrorism.

The story is told from two viewpoints, that of Rosa, unwitting pawn in the story and Teresa, an activist in Gridless (a protest group that uses technology to disrupt the ERP’s control). NJ Crosskey began writing this book before Trump’s ascendance and before the whole Brexit debacle. The ERP’s ultimate aim is to microchip all UK citizens ostensibly to make the UK a safer place. People who are un-microchipped such as migrants will be viewed with suspicion and unable to receive benefits or even shop for essential items such as food. Therefore the unchipped will become official outcasts who cannot participate in British society. This chilling premise has echoes of the treatment of those the regime saw as the ‘Other’ in Nazi Germany.

Propaganda is used to full effect in this story and Rosa’s family are fractured and manipulated to full effect. Her brother serves as the convenient ‘Poster Boy’ by the ERP, even though he lived a life contrary to the goals of the party. Crosskey paints a terrifying scenario of a future Britain that forces its citizens to either toe the line and sacrifice their autonomy, or become activists living on the edge of society. This future Britain has caused rampant depression affecting many citizens which in turn has increased drug misuse. In Poster Boy, it seems that some people would rather live in a pharmaceutically induced haze than face the frightening situation of their lives in such a world. These people are merely existing rather than living and this prospect is a frightening one but as with the opioid crisis of America, perhaps this is a reality that has real resonance today.

This is a deeply impressive read and I recommend that you do read it as it is relevant to the society that we live in and should serve as a warning of the society that we could become.

The Killer in Me by Olivia Kiernan

The Killer in Me: The most gripping thriller of 2019 is the second book in the Frankie Sheehan detective series by Olivia Kiernan, set in Ireland.

In this book, Kiernan paints a convincing picture of Frankie who works for The Bureau for Serious Crime. She tries to unravel the mystery of a double murder in her hometown of Clontarf, an affluent suburb of Dublin.

Suspect number one is ex-con Sean Hennessey, who was recently released after being jailed for the double murder of his parents and attempted murder of his sister. Sean is adamant that he is innocent but Frankie is not so sure. Things are further complicated here by the involvement here of her sister-in-law Frankie who is a defence lawyer for ‘Justice Meets Justice,’ a charity that revaluates cases which they believe have been miscarriages of justice. So with family members believing different things, this further muddies the waters.

Kiernan is great at characterisation. You feel there’s a real sense of Frankie’s ambivalence and uncertainty in her narrative. Sean is portrayed as being extremely charming and perhaps dangerous even, in his scenes with Frankie, you feel like she is trapped in a cage with a lion in these tense situations which ratchets up the tension to the nth degree.

This novel is all about families and the dark secrets that they hide. Frankie finds herself drawn in to a complex case that rocks her coastal home to its core. I would recommend reading it if you’ve not done so already.