Review: The Suicide Exhibition (The Never War 1)

Suicide pb the-suicide-exhibition-cover1By Justin Richards

Del Rey, out now

Dunkirk survivor Major Guy Pentecross becomes embroiled in a far wider conflict than just the Allies against the Nazis…

Justin Richards’ intriguingly titled first novel in his new series takes some of its inspiration from one of the more unlikely sources – the works of Edward Bulwer-Lyton, the man who gave us the wonderful phrase “dark and stormy night”, and in 1871 penned a novel about The Coming Race. It’s firmly established that the Nazis had an interest in the supernatural and Richards posits a situation where their search for the “Untermensch” (the Supermen) has led them to a most intriguing discovery.

It’s the catalyst for a fast-paced novel which encompasses action behind enemy lines in France and Germany, involvement in the Allied battle against Rommel in North Africa, decoding at Bletchley Park, and hideous creatures wreaking havoc in war-torn London. Richards’ other influences become clear as the novel progresses (there’s a definite Indiana Jones vibe – encompassing all four films, it’s fair to say – as well as nods to The Mummy, Alien, and even war films such as Hanover Street) but while they may form the ingredients for the recipe, it’s the way that Richards has brought them together which makes this book work so well.

All too often, alternate histories of the Second World War try to follow the course of the conflict as it happened, but raise too many questions about why it should follow that pattern, given the changed parameters, but Richards’ conceits in this run neatly in parallel, with the story covering quite a long period.

He’s also created some strong characters – the Colonel in charge of Section Z occasionally comes across as Doctor Who’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (to the extent I could hear Nick Courtney saying some of the lines), but is a reassuring presence in the unit. The main protagonists – Pentecross; an undercover agent whose pre-war career as an actor comes in very useful; and a half-American female pilot – are suitably flawed, and there are just the right hints of romance (although in the best Boys’ Own tradition, the scene ends with the bedroom door – or tent flap – closing).

Verdict: The pace and vigour of the best of Alastair MacLean’s thrillers with very 21st century SF and horror elements thrown in – recommended. 8/10

Paul Simpson

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