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Thursday, 30 April 2020

‘Lockdown’ by Peter May


Published by riverrun,
30 April 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-52941169-0 (PB)

Peter May (no relation!) is now a successful and highly thought of crime writer with several series to his name. But in 2005, although he had written several crime novels, he was as yet unpublished. He was inspired by the widespread deadly ‘bird-flu’ to tackle the effect of a pandemic upon Britain, in particular London. He sent the resultant manuscript to some publishers, but their response was that the idea of a lockdown of London resulting from a pandemic was not credible. So, he put the rejected manuscript in a file and there it languished for 15 years. Little did those publishers, or anyone else, know!

And then, in 2020, the world was struck by coronavirus and Peter extracted his novel and sent it to his publisher who, of course, took it on.

The novel begins with London already struck down by the virus with hundreds of thousands dead, including the Prime Minister, a breakdown of law and order, and the army exercising iron control of the streets. There is an anti-virus drug, FluKill, manufactured by a French-based pharmaceutical company, but supplies are limited although the police are among those entitled. However, the work of the Metropolitan Police continues as best it can, although the virus has taken has taken a deadly toll of many of its officers so that when a holdall full of human bones is discovered during demolition work on a building site, the only officer who can be spared is Jack McNeil who, with his marriage having fallen apart, is taking early retirement and is anxious to spend as much time as he can with his young son Sean. Nevertheless, McNeil is intrigued by some aspects of the case, particularly when the forensic pathologist Tom Bennett informs him that the bones are those of a child, are not old, and had been chemically cleaned. McNeil’s girlfriend, wheel-chair bound Amy Wu, whose speciality is facial reconstruction, tells him that the child had been a girl, probably Chinese, who had not spent much of her life in the UK, and had a cleft palate which would have resulted in a severe hare-lip. And when, in the course of the novel, tragedy hits McNeil’s family; he is devastated by this and all the more determined to discover the truth about the young girl’s death.

A parallel narrative is that of the young hitman, Pinkie, who has modelled himself on the protagonist of Grahame Greene’s famous pre-war novel, Brighton Rock. He is being instructed by a mysterious Mr Smith to ‘tidy up’ various people including those whom McNeil is enquiring into.

This is a gripping story with scenes set in a London which is familiar yet unfamiliar, and an increasing body-count and a dramatic ending. The story is grounded by an impressive amount of research and McNeil, despite his readiness to use his fists, is a sympathetic character with convincing love for his son and for Amy. Recommended
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Reviewer: Radmila May

Peter May was born and raised in Scotland. He was an award-winning journalist at the age of twenty-one and a published novelist at twenty-six. When his first book was adapted as a major drama series for the BCC, he quit journalism and during the high-octane fifteen years that followed, became one of Scotland's most successful television dramatists. He created three prime-time drama series, presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland as script editor and producer, and worked on more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping drama before deciding to leave television to return to his first love, writing novels. He has won several literature awards in France, received the USA's Barry Award for The Blackhouse, the first in his internationally bestselling Lewis Trilogy; and in 2014 was awarded the ITV Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year award for Entry Island. Peter now lives in South-West France with his wife, writer Janice Hally.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing. 

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