BLOODY WAR – Terry Grimwood (Eibonvale Press)
Pete Allman lived a charmed life. Reformed from a violent and hedonistic past, he is now married to Ruth with whom he has sired three children. He works with his friend, Andy Taylor, as an IT technician; a job he treats with feigned interest and genuine cynicism. Life before was good…
One morning he wakes, after enduring complications with an appendix operation, and his charmed life has been irreversibly altered. He’s still married, still a dad and still employed, but something has changed. He sees blackout curtains. White tape on the windows. A plane appears to have crashed in near-by Ruislip. At breakfast, he’s informed that the UK is at war – and has been for 18 months. And so begins Allman’s own apocalypse.
Allman, while being instantly likeable, is nobody’s fool, decidedly stubborn and doggedly inquisitive. These traits lead him to examine this war – a seemingly mythological war played out via TV propaganda. He discovers the UK is not at war with a country or nation, but the mystical, ominous ‘Enemies Of Democracy’. The police have been superseded by an SS-like regime called Special Security Unit (SSU). Curfews are in place and, if broken, severely punished. Cities are encircled by a massive retaining wall – to keep the citizens in. Conscription is in order for anyone who hits 18 – like Allman’s own son in a matter of days. Those who have returned – The Veterans – are deformed, seemingly tortured and shunned.
It is in this foreboding, bleak society that Allman comes into possession, via the SSU, of a list of names and numbers that leads him to collude with the Veterans. This clandestine collusion takes Allman into a world of state-sanctioned mass murder, corruption, conspiracy, vigilantes and harrowing, war-torn camps littered with tortured, decaying remains.
This is Grimwood’s first full novel and it’s an impressive, well visualised piece of fiction. His depiction of an embattled UK is extremely vivid; virtually to the point where you can smell the suppressed, insinuated violence of the SSU and the decaying dead. Grimwood’s characterisation is pointed and concise with only that of Pete Allman being analysed intimately. There is an authenticity about the characters, rendering them tangible and alive with realised personalities and temperaments. I also appreciated Grimwood’s ability to drop some subtle music references into the story, be it The Who, Thin Lizzy or Black Sabbath.
Comparisons are no doubt going to level Bloody War with Orwell’s 1984. Both books suggest individualism is a punishable crime; both paint a subservient, politically apathetic society where advanced surveillance and misinformation keeps the people pacified; both focus on a subversive, humanist antihero; both feature a war against an unknown, unseen enemy. The error of the comparison is that 1984 looked forward, making an ideological, political statement, whereas Bloody War is set in the present and, while political (the Enemies Of Democracy has clear parallels with the Bush-instigated War On Terror), retains a more personal, conversational perspective.
This is a highly engaging thriller which, when considered as a whole, has ramifications that border the horrific. Definitely recommended – and I haven’t even mentioned the jarring, electrifying, never-saw-it-coming finale. Steve Scanner