Growing old is not something any of us wants to think about. I’m told the process begins with a creeping addiction to soap operas which is eventually followed by a preference to cocoa over cocktails until one day you find yourself in the park playing dominoes, for fun…
Just imagine growing old, having aching joints in stormy weather, watching your health fall off you like the muscles from your bones.
Now imagine you’ve been exiled to an island where all the rubbish and detritus of the world is dumped. A festering wound to call home and all the company you have is other old’uns, all as frail, wrinkled and crumbly as you are.
Now finally, imagine you’re laying in your ramshackle hut listening to the shrieks and screams of some poor soul being brutally murdered and you know that any moment it could be your turn.
This is where The Detainee, the debut book by author Peter Liney, opens and where we meet ‘Big Guy’ Clancy.
“You know, I can take the bars; it’s the patches of sky in between that get you.”
Clancy and all the other old and forgotten people spend their days foraging and squeezing out a living but when the night comes so does the mist and everyone cowers in fright of the evil that comes with that mist.
This is a world not too far in the future from our own, a world where satellites roam the heavens like robotic equivalents of Judge Dredd, meting out self-determined justice. The punishments can range from a stunning hit for minor misdemeanours all the way up to (yes you guessed it) fatal laser blasts for any deeds deemed bad enough.
These satellites mean everyone in the world is safe from harm but when the mists roll in and the satellites can’t see what’s happening, everything changes. This is when the terrifying things happen. And what’s perhaps even more terrifying than the terrible things that happen is when we learn just what it is stalking the old people from the midnight mists.
As you would expect, our protagonist Clancy eventually gets caught outside as the mists roll in and ends up fearing for his life but just when things are getting a little bit ‘Clockwork Orange’, Clancy gets saved by a mysterious blind woman who lives beneath the ground and suddenly everything changes.
To say much more will give the game away but I was genuinely surprised at this novel. I didn’t know what to expect exactly and at first I got thoughts of King’s The Mist except The Detainee is anything but. You can see homage paid to many great ‘island’ adventures from The Beach to Lost to The Lord Of The Flies but this book is very much its own beast.
Liney’s world in the Detainee is beautifully realised with all the belches of explosive methane you’d expect from a rubbish dump backdrop. I particularly like the small but significant references to the outside world of the mainland and it’s this world building that makes the Detainee particularly powerful.
It’s quite believable that there’s an island out there where we send all our rubbish (after all, we already do it to India). The governmental use of drones to patrol the skies makes the premise of satellites shooting death beams from the atmosphere just too close for comfort. Perhaps the most believable thing, as tongue in cheek as it is, is despite the island being supposedly isolated, at the first sign of anything interesting happening, a media chopper is quickly there to catch the action.
“What kind of guy’s jealous of the smile on a corpse?”
Sadly it’s not all believable though which is where The Detainee lost me slightly although, I must be honest, these are only minor gripes.
For example, I simply couldn’t grasp how the tunnels could have open ceilings allowing for a garden area where crops are grown and yet the tunnels were never stumbled over or fallen in to by the enemy.
One thing that really got up my nose though was Lena’s olfactory skills… (gosh I am hilarious).
Now, I appreciate that the loss of one sense (in this case her sight) can boost the other senses but seriously, this lady is like the love child of Daredevil and Wolverine but without the balance or shiny nose-miners. I mean, despite being on what is possibly the worst smelling island in the world, Lena could pick out the enemy like Scooby Doo to a fridge. It seems a dumb thing to whinge about but her radar-like nostrils just knocked that sense of realism The Detainee otherwise brought just a bit too much for my liking.
But as I said, these are minor gripes because this book is damn good. It’s a smart and fresh take on the ‘lost island’ story and brings focus on a tired and often forgotten portion of the population.
The Detainee is a dystopian/sci-fi thriller that is equal parts exciting, terrifying and thought-provoking. It has a pure social commentary on everything from the differing attitudes of ages to our media, our world, what it means to grow old and perhaps most importantly, what would it take to put the fight back in to you?
I’m genuinely intrigued to see where Liney takes this story next because if this debut is a well planned bonfire then I’m thinking the sequel will be fireworks.
The Detainee by Peter Liney is out now and published by Jo Fletcher Books