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Friday 27 November 2020

‘Lockdown’ by Peter May

Published by Riverrun,
30 April 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-52941-169-0 (PB)

There aren’t many novelists, even among the most successful, who don’t have a book in the back of a cupboard which failed to attract the attention of a publisher. But how often does it happen that global events suddenly make that book so topical that no publisher with any marketing sense would turn it down?

Every cloud, as they say, and for Peter May the cloud hanging over us all at the moment had a lining of pure gold. Lockdown, his novel in the back of the cupboard, is set in a London overwhelmed by an epidemic not unlike the dreaded coronavirus which has ensured that 2020 will live in most people’s memories for all the wrong reasons – but for May it has proved timely. 

One thing that struck me as I immersed myself in the nightmare world he creates all too realistically is that we may have actually escaped quite lightly. May’s flu – he doesn’t dignify it with a fancy name – takes no prisoners. It kills eighty per cent of people who contract it, the only attempt at a vaccine has failed catastrophically, and anything resembling a treatment is in short supply. London is under strict curfew and martial law, looting is rife, the O2 has become a makeshift hospital and funerals are mass affairs.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a serial killer on the loose, picking off anyone with a connection to the skeletal but recent remains of a child found on a building site. DI Jack MacNeil’s last task before retirement is to identify the child and find her killer, and it all gets a lot more complicated than he expects.

The result will not disappoint Peter May’s legion of fans, and if there’s any justice it will gain him a whole lot more. Lockdown is a high-octane, fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns and an edge-of-the-seat (almost literally!) ending. It’s peopled with the kind of living, breathing characters those existing fans have come to expect and all mystery readers’ relish. I especially enjoyed Amy, the forensic anthropologist disabled by a horrendous accident and determined not to let it hamper her progress; and Dr Castelli the pandemics expert, fit and feisty way beyond her advanced years. MacNeil himself is a gentle giant of a man who isn’t coping well with personal tragedy. And the background just might make you reconsider whether 2020 has been so bad after all.

The biggest mystery is why the book wasn’t published years ago when it was first written. It’s up there with Peter May’s best.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

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. 

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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