Following yet another recommendation from my personal librarian/reading mentor I picked up Alex Scarrow’s Last Light a few weeks ago and when my reading mood ring hit ‘thriller’ this week I read it. I can’t resist books with an environmental theme.
The Sutherland family is scattered. Andy is in Iraq doing private consulting work as an engineer, Jenny is in Manchester on a job interview, their teenage daughter Leona is at University in Norwich and their seven year-old son Jacob is at boarding school in London. When the world experiences a series of incidents which shut down global oil supplies and, in turn, cause chaos and rioting on an unprecedented scale the Sutherlands have a battle to find each other amid the rapidly collapsing society.
I have spent more than one evening sitting around with my Greenie friends speculating about what the world will look like if when oil becomes a rare commodity in the not too distant future so I was well and truly primed for a book which took this as its theme. Last Light did not disappoint, presenting a thoroughly credible series of possibilities and, I was pleased to see, not resorting to the clichéd British stiff upper lip seeing everyone through the crisis. The story unfolds at a suitably fast pace in a succession of short chapters and the depiction of society quickly crumbling was well done and quite believable given how reliant we all are these days on having life’s necessities such as food, water and energy delivered to our doorstep, often from half a world away.
My single gripe is that Scarrow saw the need to incorporate a ‘shadowy figure’ element to the story by attributing the instigating events to a sinister global cabal bent on… well… the sorts of things that sinister cabals of shadowy figures are always bent on. For me this aspect detracted a little from the otherwise authentic feel to the story. Also, I could have done with a few less pages devoted to gunfights in Iraq but I’m prepared to admit this is a personal bias against descriptions of gun play which I always find to be incomprehensible and on par with watching dust settle in the entertainment stakes.
Through each of the family members’ struggle to make it to the family home to reconnect Scarrow was able to show different aspects of how society might quickly fall apart in such circumstances and how ‘nice ordinary people’ such as the Sutherlands will struggle to accept that the societal norms they’ve been used to might no longer apply. The description of what happens when Leona and her brother make it to their suburban home and then, along with the few neighbours similarly trapped, experience being terrorised by gangs each night is truly frightening. This along with other key scenes generated quite a few ‘what would I do faced with that scenario?’ moments for me.
The characters are about standard for a thriller in that they’re not superbly well-rounded but neither are they one-dimensional automatons. Interestingly for a male writer I found the female characters to be better developed and more credible than the men. Both Jenny and Leona coped with the barrage of frightening experiences and the way went from confused to afraid to resolved and back again felt very realistic . The only character to develop even a smidgen of the super human skills that heroes in thrillers tend to do was Andy, the father, and even that was of a very minor nature when compared with the sort of thing you normally see in thrillers.
Most of the thrillers I come across these days seem to either be concerned with some aspect of the (to me) nonsensical ‘war on terror’ or a variation on hidden codes in religious texts and I’ve tired of both of these so enjoyed the opportunity to explore a different theme. Also, having ranted previously about books which incorporated their messages badly by telling me what to think rather than showing me what the characters were thinking I was pleased to see that someone still knows how to incorporate a political point of view while delivering all the action and heart-in-the-mouth moments of terror that a thriller is supposed to have. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes the idea of an intelligent romp of a thriller.
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My rating 4/5
Publisher: Orion Books [this edition 208, original edition 2007] ISBN: 9788752893273; Length 483 pages.
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