The Resurrectionist, By Jack O'Connell

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The Independent Culture

Sweeney has a new job as a pharmacist in a clinic. The clinic specialises in treating coma patients who are in a persistent vegetative state (they've had two "arousals" in 10 years) and the reason Sweeney is there is that his six-year-old son, Danny, has been admitted as a patient. The clinic's director, Dr Peck, is a man of strange and sinister vision, who spends nights alone in the cupola at the top of the building drinking sherry and communing with his pet salamander. His ambition is to plumb the secrets of human consciousness and he's ruthless about how he achieves it.

Sweeney spends long hours sitting by the motionless Danny's bed, reading to him from a comic, Limbo. And the readings from Limbo are a full-length story in themselves: a troupe of circus freaks – Chick the Chicken Boy, Aziz the Human Torso, Jeta the Living Skeleton, Nadja the Lobster Girl et al, led by their protector Bruno the strongman – roam the blasted, sinister land of Gehenna, guided by the chicken boy's mystical visions, searching for Chick's father. The world of Limbo is full of echoes of the real world, with the characters in and around the Peck clinic finding their parallels in the comic book world. And when Sweeney gets acquainted with a gang of psycho bikers on acid, things get really weird...

This novel is billed as crime fiction but, although plenty of crimes are committed in it – assault, abduction, torture, murder and the trading of foetuses on the black market – that's a misleading classification. It could equally be billed as fantasy, horror, a psychological novel about guilt and grief, or a good old comic book-style adventure. The writing is sharp and vivid, and the plot leaves you dizzy with its twists and turns. It's a helter-skelter, a roller-coaster, a ride on a ghost train – if the fairground had been designed by Philip K Dick, Stan Lee and Edgar Allan Poe.

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