Book Review – Fever by Deon Meyer.

Like most of us, this time last year I’d never heard of Coronavirus or Covid-19. Regardless, it was there and had been around for a while. However, even as news broke left, right and centre and day by day the situation worsened, most of would have never have imagined how bad things would get and how much our world would change. So imagine a situation where it seems like the very same virus wipes out 90% of the world’s population.

This is the premise of ‘Fever’ by Deon Meyer. Even as a lover of almost anything dystopian, the facts here would have seemed a little far-fetched without the reality of the present-day global pandemic. And while Coronavirus has had nowhere near such a devastating impact, the severity of the damage done to the world of ‘Fever’ made it all the more readable for me.

The novel is set in South Africa and while the rest of the world is rarely referenced, the reader is aware that the entire planet has changed almost beyond recognition. The South Africa inhabited by our protagonists, Willem and Nico Storm is merely a microcosm of what’s going on elsewhere. And there’s a lot going on. ‘The Fever’ has wiped out the majority of human life and those that are left are now battling for survival. Everything that they need to stay alive is either sparse in quantity or heavily in demand and the competition to stay alive is strong. This really is survival of the fittest.

But, in amongst the chaos, Willem Storm has a dream. Having lost everything to the fever, he now wants to create a community that will welcome anyone and be fair to everyone. Willem Storm wants to restore order while at the same time offering hope, even if it is on a relatively small scale.

In my opinion this is dystopian fiction at its best and at its most relevant. The book is around 5 years old so while there was an awareness of coronavirus, Meyer couldn’t have predicted just how quickly it would take hold and just how relevant his novel would eventually be. I must admit though, that for the first few sittings of reading the novel I was fascinated by the coincidence, even though I knew that coronavirus had been a ‘thing’ for a while. So reading the novel when I did, in the midst of our latest lockdown, gave it a definite edge. As the infection rate and the death toll spiked again and again, I couldn’t help but think, ‘what if?’

The novel is written from the point of view of the 13-year-old Nico Storm, looking back on the events of his childhood and the early post-Fever years. South Africa is in a state of emergency and no one is safe as rival gangs roam the country, robbing, killing and trading as they try to stay alive. Think ‘The Road’ but with a better climate. The wildlife poses a problem too and packs of wild dogs are a constant threat. So we have a landscape and society that is very much a cross between something out of Mad Max and The Walking Dead, but with no zombies and more Negans and Whisperers. And in amongst it all, his father Willem, sees a dream of a new society.

The dream becomes reality, but despite the spirit of evolution and the fading of the fever, this was never going to be simple and there’s little chance of a happy ending. The population of Amanzi – Willem’s vision for the future – grows, but so do the problems. And as with any good dystopia – and there’s a paradox if ever there was one – just when you think you’ve overcome the problem, another one appears. And another, and another. ‘Fever’ is very much edge of the seat stuff.

‘Fever’ is a novel of hope. Everything is a struggle, but with that, even the smallest of successes is a victory for the good guys. Within its 500+ pages there are plenty of moments where the reader has to suspend their disbelief, but this isn’t War and Peace; this is the world minus 90% of its population and a book full of drama and edge of the seat thrills. I must admit I didn’t enormously enjoy the twist and ‘big reveal’ of the ending, but it certainly didn’t spoil the read for me either.

If you’re a fan of anything dystopian then you’ll enjoy ‘Fever’. Meyer creates a surprisingly believable world while managing to fill a long story with enough problems to keep you well and truly interested and perched on the edge of your seat. It’s possible that there are too many characters to really focus on, but then again, with the protagonists creating a new world and aiming to accept all who arrive at their gates, we were never going to be able to just stick to the two points of view. And frankly, if you don’t get confused while the world is falling apart around your ears, then is it even falling apart at all?

‘Fever’ plunges us right into the situation that we’ve been living through for the last year…but replaces government sanctioned exercise, closure of shops, face masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing with the fact that it all got a lot worse and nearly everyone died. What more could you want to get your teeth into?

I’d give ‘Fever’ by Deon Meyer

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

They say that everybody makes mistakes. I only have to think of a few haircuts from my twenties and several outfits from the 90s to realise that it’s likely to be a fact. Come on, we’ve all done it. From one night stands to long term relationships and choosing Betamax over VHS, we’ve all made mistakes. And while the consequences range in levels of seriousness, it’s rare that our life is put in serious danger.

In ‘Midnight Sun’, Jo Nesbos’ hapless hitman, Jon has made a big mistake. In fact, to paraphrase Julia Roberts’ Vivian in Pretty Woman, it’s not just a big mistake, it’s “Big. Huge.” But unlike Vivian, he won’t get to go shopping. You se, Jon has double crossed Oslo’s biggest gangster, The Fisherman. When his trigger finger didn’t want to work, Jon agreed a deal with a small time criminal in debt to the Fisherman and like most hastily arranged plans, it didn’t work out. Like I said, big mistake. Big. Huge.

‘Midnight Sun’ is set in the remote, icy wastelands of Finnmark in the north of Norway. The title refers to the fact that for certain months of the year, the entire place has continuous daylight, 24 hours a day. This is the most northerly part of mainland Europe; perfect if you’re thinking of running away, have a high boredom threshold and don’t mind the cold. Surely even a man with the reputation of the Fisherman can’t find you here? Although, let’s face it, that continuous daylight thing isn’t exactly going to help.

Midnight Sun is something a bit different for Nesbo. No multiple gratuitous murders, not so much of the ultra violence that we might find in some of his other novels, no particularly complex criminals and not even a hint of his infamous hero, Harry Hole. Sure it’s pretty heavy on the underworld and the seedy side of Scandinavian culture, but it’s a lot more of a simple tale than we’re used to. A cut and dried thrill of the chase kind of novel with a man on the run and the ever present threat of the bad guy hunting him down. And despite the fact that Jon runs to the middle of nowhere, you’re always aware of the fact that he can run…but he can’t hide.

There are the usual quirky characters as well as a girl for our hero to fall in love with. Both seemingly staples of Nesbo’s writing. Because the novel is set in the Finnmark region we find a clutch of Sami people – the indigenous people of the area – although the main character does seem a bit of a caricature, despite my lack of knowledge of the Sami. We also find Lea, a beautiful, mysterious and, it would seem, decidely off limits woman, being as she is, married to the local gangster. So not only does our hero Jon appear to have someone hunting him down, he also has to switch off his feelings for the woman that he inevitably falls for.

It’s sub-plots like this that always make Nesbo’s writing a little more interesting. While reading you’re always waiting for an explosion of action or violence, for a character to make the wrong decision or to be somehow outwitted. And it’s this type of thing that makes Midnight Sun such a good read. The main character is flawed – a hitman who can’t bring himself to ‘hit’ and who has messed with the wrong people. His back story reveals a motivation for the path that he took and so, as a reader, we can live with his mistakes. It seems inevitable that he will pay the price for his mistakes, but Jon is human enough for us to be on his side, despite his flaws and you’ll find yourself willing him to live, despite the inexorable nature of his fate.

Midnight Sun has everything you want in a thriller while retaining something a little bit different. There aren’t bodies everywhere, but there’s just enough jeopardy to keep you on the edge of your reading seat. And when violence does rear its head, it’s shocking, yet believable; Nesbo doing what Nesbo does best. The setting isn’t somewhere that the vast majority of us will be familiar with, but Nesbo captures the area’s stark beauty brilliantly and during my reading, I could easily envisage the town and the wilderness where Jon sets up camp. The ever-present sun lends the whole place an eerie quality that simply adds to the danger that our hero finds himself. He’s a sitting duck, resigned to his fate. But can he escape a fate that he seems perfectly willing to accept?

I give Midnight Sun…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review – The Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay

We’ve surely all imagined the same kind of relaxing, fantasy weekend. While there might be some subtle differences to our individual plans, I’m sure you’d all agree that if that weekend included time spent in a remote cabin set by the side of a beautiful lake in the company of your nearest and dearest, that’d probably just about hit the spot, right?

Well, let me be the first to warn you, when you get this relaxing break, if I guy called Leonard turns up looking all friendly make your excuses, abandon your utopian weekend and run as fast as you can!

Wen is 7 years old and after a tough start in life, seems to have very much found her feet. Wen was adopted as a baby by her now dads, Eric and Andrew and moved halfway across the world from China to a new life full of love in Boston. There have been bumps in the road along the way, but now, as a big girl she’s settled in school, has friends, is making decisions of her own and enjoying quite the fulsome life. These trips to the countryside are common place nowadays and it’s good for her, daddy Eric and daddy Andrew to get away from the stress of city life and spend some quality time exploring the wilds of New Hampshire together. And then, while she’s having a ton of fun catching and naming grasshoppers in the garden in front of the cabin, that guy called Leonard shows up.

Leonard is a giant (not literally), but although she’s a bit unsure, Wen isn’t scared. Despite his size, Leonard is friendly and even helps her find more grasshoppers. He helps her name them too. Stranger danger briefly crosses her mind but before she knows it she’s chatting away to him and discussing school, her hatred of broccoli and her upcoming two birthday parties, like they’ve been friends for years. In fact, after a short while, she decides that she and Leonard now actually are friends. And that’s when, Leonard’s other friends turn up. Three of them, armed with what can only be described as terrifying home made weapons.

From here on in ‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ picks up the pace and never really slows down again. Brilliantly written, this thriller has more than enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. Dystopia, horror, fear, tension and violence; it’s all here and it’s packed into every page.

However, ‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ is much much more than just a bloodfest. In fact, in terms of blood there’s relatively little to go around. The horror and the thrills here are largely psychological and despite the obvious presence of the bad guys, it’s difficult to really dislike any of the characters. While Leonard and his friends are certainly threatening you’ll find yourself listening to their reasons for being there and as certain things happen, maybe even beginning to believe their schtick.

Brilliantly though, every time you lower your guard, Tremblay add a new twist and you’re forced, breathless, to reconsider your view of what’s unfolding in front of you. When you think a safe status quo has been settled upon, Tremblay reminds you that it’s anything but. And when you think that you can definitely see what’s coming next, he throws some metaphorical mud in your eye so that you can’t see for a while longer and by the time you’ve cleared it away, things have changed.

It’s hard to decide whether Leonard and his friends are part of a very sophisticated cult or whether they themselves have actually been duped. Each one of the four carry a subtle menace, while maintaining an air of friendliness, making them both the subject of our suspicion and loathing as well as a group of people that we could see ourselves easily getting along with. It’s a sign that ‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ is a real winner when not only does the reader fall for the charms of the obviously wonderful Wen but they also see possible friends in three of the four bad guys.

‘The Cabin at The End of The World’ is a brilliant read. A real page turner where just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s going on, the rug is pulled from under you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a thriller or horror fan at all; this is just a fantastic book. You’re engaged from the very start and you have great characters, a hint of dystopia, elements of horror and the sheer thrill of what will happen next to keep you going. And at the heart of it all there’s just a really good story. I loved reading ‘The Cabin at The End of The Word’ and would give it…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Film Review: Overlord

OVERLORD | British Board of Film Classification

If you’ve ever wondered what the world would have looked like if Germany had triumphed in World War II, you may well have come up with some or all of the following answers.

  • Lots and lots of blonde, blue eyed people, like an incredibly efficient version of Baywatch. (Ironically, given his dark hair, David Hasselhoff would still have had a place because of the affection that he’s held in in Germany. He did, after all, single-handedly bring down the Berlin Wall).
  • Trains that ran on time. All of the time.
  • The obligatory picture of the family in ledherhosen on every mantelpiece.
  • Lots and lots of mullets.
  • Everybody can take a penalty, whatever the pressure. (This is a football gag…soccer, if you’re not familiar with what football actually is).
  • Of course I jest. The world wouldn’t look anything like this generalised tuetonic view…

What you probably wouldn’t have imagined though, would have been any supercharged zombies. But then, you probably haven’t watched ‘Overlord’.

Directed by Julius Avery and starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell and Mathilde Olivier, Overlord tells the tale of an American army units’ seemingly doomed mission to take out a vital communications tower prior to the D Day landings. We find our heroes in a plane, heading for Northern France and a remote village where the Nazis have set up some kind of communications hub in an old church. As you do. If the allied troops are to succeed on the beaches of Normandy this tower needs to be taken out. If it’s not, then the Nazis will be able to intercept allied radio communication and will inevitably be slaughtered. Over to you, American heroes.

However, when their plane comes under heavy artillery fire and ends up in flames you realise that this is going to be in no way a straightforward tale of big ol’ Uncle Sam saving the day. A bit like WWII, really. But, some of our parachuting heroes survive – I mean, it’d have been a short film otherwise – and head towards the target village in order to complete their mission. Game on!

If you, rightly, thought that Hitler’s plans for the Aryan race were unpalatable, then you’d be truly horrified by what our heroes find in the village and subsequently the church.

Overlord marries a dystopian vision with some of the most warped elements of horror to give us a quite absurd, yet compelling twist on the classic war film. You’ll find tons of clichés, heroes, villains, a little bit of glamour in the form of French villager Chloe played by Mathilde Olivier, but you’ll also find jump scares aplenty and a horrifically warped version of what the Reich were cooking up – literally – via their crazed scientists. Is it believable? Well, no. Is it watchable? Hell, yes!

Overlord is no emotional roller coaster. There are no life-changing performances here. However, it’s sure to keep you gripped and brighten up a dull day with its sometimes utterly fantastical plot.

If you’re not too bothered about realism, if you enjoy a bit of gore and if you fancy a war film with a twist, then Overlord is very definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.

I give Overlord

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