A corporate thriller populated by folkloric trolls and child murderers might sound an odd beast, but Liz Jensen is no stranger to genre-bending fiction. Returning to themes present in her bestselling eco-drama, The Rapture, here she examines how far supernatural phenomena can ever be incorporated into a system of rational beliefs.
Guiding us through the book's more outlandish moments is Jensen's hyper-realistic narrator, Hesketh Lock. He has Asperger's Syndrome and uses his offbeat perceptions to help solve complicated cases of global industrial sabotage. But as the novel opens, he finds himself facing a particularly indecipherable turn of events.
Over the past few months, a number of Lock's business informants have met gruesome ends – including a Taiwanese operations manager found mashed to a sticky pulp in a timber processing plant, and a Swedish colleague mown down by a truck . To confuse matters further, these deaths seem to have coincided with a bizarre killing spree in the outside world. According to the international press, a number of primary school-aged children, from Spain to Yorkshire, have turned on their own families with nail guns and worse.
Lock's matter-of-fact descriptions of these outrages make for an unexpectedly thrilling and even comic read. It soon becomes apparent that some kind of apocalyptic catastrophe is imminent, but who is orchestrating the crisis is anyone's guess. Lock, sounding at times like a humanoid version of Mr Spock, is determined to undestand the problem: "Humans like to believe they're rational. But the capacity for superstition is part of our DNA…"
Jensen has dreamt up a very concrete-feeling universe in which shape-shifting pixies and corporate fat-cats meet head on. Subverting the usual tropes of horror and SF, she succeeds in portraying an end-of-the-world scenario that is more freshly imagined than most. For a novel centering on a supposedly emotion-free man, it has a great deal to say about love and thwarted relationships.