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I’m sharing a review of the latest book (to date) of an author who keeps visiting my blog. And she’ll carry on coming.
The Visitor: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery by Terry Tyler
In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and one hundred per cent lethal.
A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.
What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.
Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or somebody from outside? Paranoia is rife, as friend suspects friend, and everybody suspects the newcomers.
Most terrifying of all is that nobody knows who’s next on the list…
The Visitor is Terry Tyler’s twenty-second Amazon publication, and is set in the same world as her Project Renova series, while being a completely separate, stand-alone novel.
About the author:
Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-two books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘The Visitor’, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. She is currently at work on ‘Megacity’, the third and final book in her dystopian Operation Galton series, after which she may decide to write something a bit more cheerful. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.
I received an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I have read and reviewed a number of novels written by Terry Tyler, both in her Project Renova Series (I have to catch up with a volume of short stories, but otherwise, I think I’ve read all of them), and also in her Operation Galton series (I’m eagerly waiting for the next one). I am aware she writes in other genres, and I’m sure I’ll get to read some of her other works too, but, for some reason, I seem to be drawn towards her dystopian novels (perhaps these feel like particularly dystopic times, one way or another). She is a great writer and manages to combine gripping plots, a credible and varied cast of characters (very recognisable), and an immersive fictional world, which closely resembles or reminds us of our daily lives, especially for those who live or know the UK fairly well.
As the book’s description and the author’s note at the beginning explain, although the novel is set in the Project Renova world, it is a thriller/murder mystery, and it is not necessary to have read any of the books of the series to enjoy it or follow the action. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it if you have read the whole series or some of it, rather, you’ll hit the ground running, as you’ll have much more background information than the characters do. Not that it will help you discover who the murderer is, but… That would kill all the fun, wouldn’t it?
This being a Terry Tyler’s book I wasn’t expecting a standard crime novel, and yes, although lovers of the genre and those who are fans of mysteries will still find plenty of red herrings, assorted clues, twists and turns, and plenty of potential suspects (at least to begin with), things are a bit more complicated than usual. This is not a frantically paced story, where we hardly have time to breathe. Of course, there are hints of things to come from the very beginning, but there is a slow build-up and the early part of the book is dedicated to providing a solid background to the story, explaining how the virus started and took hold, while at the same time introducing us to the four friends who seem destined to be the main characters in the story. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, and although a group of four meets up in the village of Hincham to take advantage of the foresight of Sarah’s uncle in building a fully stocked (and secret) bunker, there are some changes.
The idea of setting the thriller in a small village isolated due to a pandemic is very clever. It turns on its head the convention (of subgenre) of a mystery set in an old house or an isolated island (or a ship, like one I read recently), because apart from the limited cast of characters and the lack of resources to investigate, in this case, there is limited to no hope that there will ever be any meaningful help coming from outside (or it is dispelled very soon). And the paranoia, accusations, and blaming of outsiders are further enhanced by the lack of information, loss of contact with the outside, and the quick loss of modern life comforts and resources (no electricity, no running water, no police, no telephone, no local services at all…). While the characters have many other things to worry about, the fact that what should be one of their strengths (being a small community where everybody knows everybody else) seems to have become a weakness and mistrust is rampant, makes the situation much harder. There’s nowhere to hide and nobody will come to the rescue.
Tyler creates a very credible and recognisable village in Hincham, and most readers will feel familiar with the setting and the characters, which are quite recognisable and realistic. As always, the author shows her strength in her development of the characters, especially the four sharing Sarah’s cottage, and although we don’t get to know that much about some of the villagers or the other strangers, there is enough there to create clear a picture in our mind. The visitor of the title is somewhat different, but I won’t go into any detail about it, as I want to avoid spoilers. For the same reason, I don’t want to talk about the characters too much, but let me say that although I didn’t like most of them (I confess I wasn’t particularly fond of Jack, who is the main narrator. There is nothing wrong with him per se; it’s probably me being me), that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the novel. I liked Finn and Avalon in particular, and I liked what I saw of a couple of the villagers, but we don’t get to know them well enough to make a full judgement of them. Oh, and yes, I’ll freely admit to really liking the baddy. (I won’t get into detail or analyse what possible pathology there might be or why the Visitor behaves that way, as this is not a psychopathology textbook and does not intend to be). So there.
The story is told from a variety of characters’ points of view and in different narrative voices. I’ve mentioned that Jack is the main narrator, and he tells his story in the first person, but he is not the only one. Several other characters tell parts of the story in the first-person from their own perspective (the Visitor as well): some are important characters, and some quite incidental, which offers readers a slightly less claustrophobic or one-sided view. (There is no head hopping or confusion possible, as each chapter is clearly labelled with the name of the character or characters whose perspective we read). There are also some chapters in the third-person, some depicting the scenes of the murders, but not all. And there is the odd comment hinting at an omniscient point of view (or perhaps something slightly different, but I’ll keep my peace). Otherwise, the story is narrated chronologically, and other than some instances of sharing/narrating past events and the mandatory reveals towards the end (secrets there are aplenty, and people who have kept information hidden also), the story flows well, with no major detours. I mentioned the build-up at the beginning, and the pace does increase as people are killed and others leave, but it never becomes frantic. There is plenty of time for readers to make conjectures and scratch their heads, pondering the clues.
There are plenty of references to pop culture, TV series, music, fashion, UK everyday life, social media, writing (Jack is a writer) that help flesh out the era and the place, and lovers of all things British will appreciate. There are some dialogue gems and some dark humour (very sharp and dry, which I really enjoyed), and the writing is, as I’ve come to expect from this author, flawless. (No, I won’t share any quotes because it’s difficult not to slip up and give something away).
The one thing I found a bit jarring was the issue of COVID-19. Because the original Project Renova series was written well before it appeared, there is no mention of it in the other books (and yes, I kept thinking about the series as the illness developed and became a pandemic). Here it is mentioned often, mostly by people who think the “bat fever” will be the same, and they talk about just isolating for a few days, make jokes about hoarding toilet paper, etc. Although at first, I liked the connection to reality, I soon found it difficult to read, and it also kept stretching my suspension of disbelief, as the characters talked and acted as if COVID-19 had only lasted a few months and had been a minor inconvenience that was over in no time at all. Perhaps that was how things looked like after the first wave, but unfortunately, that was only the beginning. The touch of realism is broken by what has happened since, and imagining that people will be so blasé about it only three or four years down the line —the story is set in 2024, and yes, I know about COVID-19 deniers, and that attitude is well reflected in the novel— didn’t quite work for me. I guess it’s difficult to know what to do when reality becomes truly stranger than fiction and catches up with our fictional stories in ways we didn’t expect, but I would much rather have assumed Project Renova took place in an alternate reality where COVID-19 hadn’t happened. I don’t know if the author intends to make changes to some of the other titles in the series, although I hope not. But it’s her story.
Did I guess who the guilty party was? It’s difficult to talk about it without giving anything away, but let’s say I had my suspicions, and I guessed some of the other secrets that are revealed at the end, although not all. I’ve already said I truly liked the baddy, and don’t worry, although there is the possibility of further stories for some of the characters, there is no big cliff-hanger. When it comes to warnings to readers… I think the main one is the fact that there are references to COVID-19, and I know I’m not the only one who still finds reading about the topic quite difficult. This is not a blood and gore story, but there is violence (even if not described in excessive detail or graphically and although it is not the most important aspect of the story), of course, so people who prefer cozy or gentle mysteries should stay away.
I recommend this book to fans of Terry Tyler’s books, to people looking for thrillers with a difference (especially those who enjoy an interesting setting and realistic characters), and to anybody who appreciates a claustrophobic backdrop with dark undertones, doesn’t mind a touch of the unexpected, and loves all things British.
Thanks to the author for her new book, for her acknowledgments (bloggers included. Yes, me too!), thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and especially keep safe, and keep smiling!