Faber & Faber, £12.99, 354pp, £12.99. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Possessions of Doctor Forrest, By Richard T Kelly

Richard Kelly's second novel is almost cheekily ambitious. For a good two-thirds of its length, it appears to be mainly a literate contemporary thriller, set in and near London, rich in character portrait, sly social observation and convincing technical detail. Its leading characters are three successful, middle-aged doctors, old college friends and rivals, one of whom who suddenly disappears.

Mysterious deaths and strange encounters abound. Then comes a cunning narrative twist, which displays the earlier events in an entirely new and thoroughly spooky light. The whiff of brimstone grows stronger by the page, and the conclusion is little short of a glimpse into Hell.

For those who know their Gothic fiction, it soon becomes obvious that The Possessions of Doctor Forrest is also a loving tribute to the classics of that school. The missing Dr Forrest is a fashionable plastic surgeon – a Dr Frankenstein for the Botox age. The frightening events of his life also resemble those of another unhappy 19th-century medical man, Dr Jekyll. There are allusions to James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner; and the novel's principal actions are conveyed through documents – diaries, interviews, police reports, exactly in the manner of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

One of those place reports notes that Dr Forrest had become increasingly disillusioned with his profitable but trivial practice: "I think it occurred to him that he had rather lost his soul." As we eventually discover, this is closer to the truth than his friends could guess. Dr Forrest, whose name echoes Faust, truly has sold himself to the Devil.

Literary acts of homage run the risk of being displays of ingenuity first and satisfying entertainment a poor second, but Kelly has managed to produce one of those rare hybrids: a book which has the robust narrative drive of genre fiction but also the thoughtfulness and stylistic flair of good literary fiction. He has done a great deal of homework on the specialist fields of his three main characters – pediatrics, psychiatry and cosmetic surgery - and there is the odd moment when he seems slightly too much in love with his own research. In the diaries of the child surgeon, for example, there are passages which read like a report for the Lancet: "I dissected the ipsilaterallatissimusdorsi off the chest wall, divided the thoracordosal neurovascular bundle..."

But even these slightly over-egged technical digressions serve to add nuance to Kelly's characters – men in their fifties who are comfortable and competent in their own fields but uneasy and at times powerless in their family lives. In the final pages, Kelly's eternally doomed protagonist nods in the direction of Dante's Hell, with its selva oscura, or dark wood, or Forrest. It is the forest in which Dante found himself lost at the mid-point of his life. Not the least of Kelly's achievements is to have used intrigues, brutal murders and the supernatural as a way of sounding the panic terror that underlies any mid-life crisis.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn