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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

‘Death Is a Welcome Guest’ by Louise Welsh



Published by John Murray,
4 June 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-848546547 (HB)

The first in Louise Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy, A Lovely Way to Burn, threaded a murder mystery  through a global pandemic of holocaust proportions. Death Is a Welcome Guest is the second in the series, and despite being set against exactly the same background, it couldn’t be more different.

This time Welsh has produced a thriller with shades of an adult Lord of the Flies: a dark and all too vivid picture of how survivors will go to any lengths to go on surviving. The protagonist is Magnus, a small-time stand-up comic who finds himself in prison for suspected rape when the pandemic strikes. His escape, in the company of hard-headed Jeb, another ‘vulnerable’ prisoner, takes up the first third of the book. Violence and horror abound; as before, the city is chaos littered with bodies.

Magnus wants to travel north; his family are in Orkney, and he harbours the hope that the deadly disease may not have reached the UK’s more remote outposts. So once they’re free of pursuit, he and Jeb head out into the countryside.

But things are no better there. There are bodies unburied because no one is left to dig graves, barns full of dead cows, cats and dogs gone feral, fields where luxuriant crops are rotting. The few people that remain are suspicious, savage or losing their minds – in some cases all three. Magnus and Jeb unintentionally find themselves entangled with a small community, where two people have already died violent deaths... and from there it’s all downhill.

Welsh is not one to repeat herself. She sets out to paints an all too frightening and convincing picture of how the human race would deal with finding itself in extremis. Her characters are icons, yet individuals; her images of a superficially idyllic countryside with rot and destruction just under the surface are all too appallingly realistic.

A Lovely Way to Burn’s protagonist encountered a succession of people in different situations; in Death Is a Welcome Guest, we stay with the same small group, exploring the relationships and dynamics which evolve when disparate people are thrown together in devastating circumstances. The story has shades of Terry Nation’s 1970s TV drama Survivors, briefly revived a few years ago, but Welsh’s community is a dark and menacing mirror image of Nation’s: a world where it’s everyone for him- or herself, leadership is down to who can shout loudest, and men quickly descend into an eye-for-an-eye mindset.

The most frightening scenarios in fiction are the ones which just could happen. In the wake of the Ebola crisis, the Plague Times trilogy has even more chilling resonance than when it was launched.
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Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Louise Welsh was born in London on 1 February 1965. She studied History at Glasgow University and traded in second-hand books for several years before publishing her first novel. She is based in Glasgow, Scotland.

www.louisewelsh.com

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.








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