Bantam, out now
Jacob Underwood is dead. Which makes him an ideal assassin since he doesn’t feel anything…
No, this isn’t a zombie story – or at least, certainly not a zombie story in the “traditional” sense of the word. John Twelve Hawks, whose first trilogy got off to a terrific start with The Traveller but faltered in its latter stages, has returned with a standalone tale whose plot is comparatively simple, but which features a central character whose renaissance (taking that word almost literally) we follow – since he believes that he is dead.
Underwood sees himself as a Spark within a Shell and has been diagnosed as suffering from Cotard’s Syndrome, a real condition whose sufferers do present the beliefs Underwood does here, following a motorcycle accident (which he calls his Transformation). He’s given ways to deal with the world around him, and comes across as a very high functioning autistic, who uses pictures on his phone as a guide to the emotions of the people around him.
As the book progresses, Underwood starts to interact increasingly with the world around him, questioning decisions, and starting to connect with people, in particular a young woman whom he is sent to find. His Spark is re-igniting and he begins to respond to the stimuli around him.
Twelve Hawks sets this tale against the background of an increasingly dystopic society, where every movement is monitored; little bits and pieces of the creation of this world are provided, and the book counterpoints Underwood’s cold monitoring of the people around him with the surveillance society in which they live. There’s also room for philosophical discussion, notably about Rene Descartes’ famous dictum Cogito, Ergo Sum, and the ways in which that has been misinterpreted over the years.
Verdict: An engaging thriller with a very unusual protagonist. 8/10