This Week’s Word Is “Breach.”
Last year I reviewed M.T. Hill’s Zero Bomb, a slow-burning, near future, novel about our relationship with technology. The Breach is another near-future novel, which whilst less speculative in its nature, is just as unsettling as Zero Bomb. The Breach came recommended by two authors I admire, James Smythe and Dave Hutchinson, so I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to check it out too.
What is The Breach?
If I was trying to classify the novel, I’d probably use ‘Urban Horror.’ The Breach is set in the UK, an unspecified number of years into the future. LIfe is less dystopian than that depicted in Zero Bomb, though the surveillance society outlined is far more oppressive than it is currently. After an incendiary prologue, the book starts out in reasonably mundane fashion. As the novel progresses, a sense of menace and macabre creeps in, with the story becoming a tale of other-worldly obsession.
Apart from three interludes featuring an almost too idyllic family, the book follows the steeplejack, Shep and a journalist, Freya. Chapters alternate between each character’s point of view, including situations that feature both of them together, creating an interesting double perspective of the same events.
When the novel opens, Shep and Freya are unknown to each other. He is a young steeplejack; an outsider in many ways. After an accident sees him laid off work he decides to carry out some Urban Exploration (Urbex). Shep investigates an underground bunker, where he discovers something macabre and disturbing. He is then hurried off the premises by the site’s over-zealous security. Shep’s journey has begun.
Freya works for a local newspaper, whose print edition is long since defunct. She has moved out of London after the collapse of her relationship. She is assigned to investigate the death of a young climber, who fell from scaffolding after a night’s drinking. Except, Freya discovers, Stephen was a teetotaler.
Sensing there is more to the story than meets the eye, she investigates deeper, discovering that Stephen too was into Urbex. Traveling to Stephen’s old climbing club, Freya meets Shep. Their stories intertwine and together they descend into darkness.
Why Read The Breach?
Both Zero Bomb and The Breach prove that Hill is master of the slow burn. Both novels are infused with a sense of dread that seeps into the narrative and the reader. I read the later chapters of this book, breath-held, barely daring to turn the page to find out what happens next.
I loved the characters in The Breach. Freya, (a victim of her own mistakes, trying to find her place in the world) meets Shep, (filled with machismo, yet equally vulnerable) at exactly the wrong time for both of them. The resulting downward spiral sucks the reader in. You want things to work out, but you suspect strongly that they won’t.
The novel’s central mystery is almost like a character in its own right; one driven by a single imperative. The wider manifestation and implications of “the Breach”, made evident on Freya’s trip to Reykjavik, are grimly fascinating and put me in mind of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.
If you like your novels neatly tied up, The Breach possibly isn’t the book for you. There are probably more unanswered questions at the end of the novel than there are in the middle. Not least of which, what is the significance of the family that features during three short interludes in the book? They’re tied into the story, yet are somehow incidental. I most definitely want to know more about them. For me, the loose ends are part of the strength of the novel. They add to its sense of “other.” That we don’t fully understand the true nature of the Breach even at the end of the novel makes it even more terrifying.
The Breach is a deeply unsettling book. It places ordinary, flawed, people, in an extraordinary situation. The Britain in which it is set is not that different from the one in which we find ourselves living in today. It’s near-future, low-level dystopian vibe further adds to the novel’s sense of menace.
When I was reading The Breach, it didn’t particularly remind me of a Stephen King novel, but as I write this review, I can see obvious comparisons, particularly with King’s tighter earlier works. Some of Shep’s unraveling is reminiscent of Jack Torrence’s is in The Shining. I’m not quite sure what a “British Stephen King” might read like, but I have a feeling that M.T. Hill’s prose might just be it.
With The Breach, Hill has set the bar even higher than his previous novel. He is a fine writer of understated horror, set in eerily plausible future Britains. I can’t wait to see what he produces next.
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other Word Wednesday reviews.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.