Richard T Kelly has followed his first novel, the chunky – in both its size and ambition – Crusaders, with a beguiling, Gothic-inflected thriller.
At the heart of the narrative are three Edinburgh childhood friends, now respected middle-aged doctors living in London. When hard-living but deeply-troubled cosmetic surgeon Robert Forrest – his own once good looks now fading – goes missing his friends, psychiatrist Steve Hartford and paediatric surgeon Grey Lochran, are gradually drawn into their own investigations, a web of deceit, menace and fatality.
For much of its duration the novel inhabits the points of view of Hartford and Lochran, illuminating middle-aged male anxieties with psychological acuity and lightness of touch, as well as driving Kelly’s deliciously sly thriller onwards. When point of view switches to that of Doctor Forrest himself – and we have never really believed him dead and are dying to hear from him – all Hell breaks loose. It’s an audacious shift of tone and largely successful, prompting the reinterpretation of much that has gone before and clarifying the novel’s thematic purposes.
This is a confident and bold novel about death, the desire for immortality, vanity and much besides. Its moral references as well as its form – letters, diaries, interviews and reports from a variety of points of view – are those of nineteenth century Gothic fiction. Doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll, Mr Hyde, Dorian Gray and Count Dracula all have a place in this dark, troubling, uncertain but finally, intensely human universe.