Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Truants by Lee Markham

I have to confess to reading this novel on something of a whim. I request books from a variety of sources, including nb magazine and While perusing their selection I saw this title, read its blurb and thought I would give it a go. I’m incredibly grateful that I did.

I can do the plot of this novel no better justice than to quote the blurb directly: “Following his lover’s suicide, the last of the ‘old-ones’ – ancient immortal beings, as clever as they are ruthless, and unable to withstand the light of the sun – has had enough and decides to end his existence. Yet as he waits for the burning dawn on a bench near a council estate, he is held up by knifepoint by a youth and stabbed. While the old-one’s body turns to ash as the sun rises, his assailant scurries back into the estates feral underbelly with the knife in his pocket. The old-one’s blood is still seared into its sharpened blade, and as the knife does its menacing rounds his consciousness is awakened in the city’s children from the depths of the afterlife. Determined to die, he must find and destroy the knife to regain control of his soul.”

If this story sounds as intriguing to you as it did to me, then you’re unlikely to be disappointed. This is a brilliant novel, told with a real adeptness of touch. As the knife is used again and again, wounding multiple people, the old-one is awakened in each of them, splitting his consciousness amongst their number. The story is thus told from multiple perspectives, each chapter from a different character’s perspective. In a writer of less talent this might prove confusing, the various characters insubstantial cut-outs. Yet despite this being a relatively short novel – just 282 pages – the author avoids such pitfalls. The multiple strands complement each other to weave a rich tapestry, while the characters are three-dimensional.  

This is a novel that’s equal parts horror, crime thriller and social commentary. As with many cities, London is a patchwork quilt, where wealth and prosperity lie side by side with real deprivation. The estates plagued by poverty are all too often riven by drugs and gangs, virtual no go areas to those who live elsewhere. The Truants touches on this hidden and shameful underbelly of our cities, how violence that would be unthinkable in more salubrious neighbourhoods is tolerated and ignored when it afflicts the residents of such sink estates. Would I be reading too much into the narrative to consider that the vampirism that takes holds, that finally pulses out to spread terror throughout the wider city, is an allegory for how the problems we as a society allow to fester in such neglected communities will eventually affect us all? Perhaps. 

The horror element, the vampirism, feels fresh. As with zombies and werewolves, there are innumerable books, films and television shows that feature vampires. As with the other two pillars of this hellish triptych, it’s often tempting to dismiss the vampire genre as done to death (excuse the pun). But just like the other two, vampire fiction stubbornly refuses to die (I know, I know, I’m laying it on a bit thick here). Occasionally something will come along that breathes new life into the genre (Sigh! I know, right? Three puns in just one paragraph!) and The Truants might just be that book.

This is a really good take on the vampire story and is a brilliantly written, entertaining read. There are parts which will have your hair standing on end, parts which are brutally violent, and then there are moments of touching poignancy. In short, this is something special and I can’t wait to see what the author writes next.

A thoroughly recommended 5 Stars

1 comment:

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