He heard glass crunch, behind him. He turned and saw a dark figure detach itself from the shadows of the doorway opposite. By the light from his phone he saw that it was wearing tight-fitting clothing and carrying what appeared to be a pistol with a very long barrel.
I hadn’t heard of the author Dave Hutchinson before this book. He describes himself on his blog as “A journalist, once upon a time. A science fiction writer, occasionally. Will write for food. Or even the odd kind word.” [Link to his homepage.]
Fortunately for me, Europe in Autumn was recommended by some fellow bloggers who had been singing its praises on their ‘Best Books of 2014’ posts. It’s a great story full of some brilliant ideas and well-realised characters. It reads a bit like a cold-war spy thriller which has had some of its technology amped up to an innovative level. The atmosphere is one of intrigue and espionage, trust and betrayal, and its setting is a fragmented, near-future Europe split by ever-increasing numbers of borders. It tells Rudi’s story.
The gun was flimsy, lightweight composite compounds and bracing wires. It had a pistol-grip and a magazine the size of a wheel of Stilton, and a five-year-old could have put their fist down the barrel. Rudi snapped the magazine into place, thumbed the selector and stood very still, watching the four heat signatures moving towards the escaping Package.
When we first meet Rudi he is a cook in a Polish restaurant, but things quickly change after his boss asks him to help a family member get across one of the borders. I enjoyed the travelling that’s done in the story. Hutchinson takes us around Eastern Europe and over to a strangely-quiet London. At times, despite its futuristic flavour, I detected a feeling of nostalgia drifting out of the book. Perhaps the author is a fan of the early spy stories of John le Carre?.. But it also feels very current, very contemporary, with nods to Scottish Independence and the toughening up of border laws.
The border post was a featureless brick cube embedded in the wire of the fence. It was simple, unadorned by national symbols, although a nest of cameras and aerials rose from its roof. There was a single door, on each side of which stood an armed Polish soldier.
This book is intelligent and exciting but it’s also peppered with humour. I enjoyed Hutchinson’s wit just as much as his invention. His prose is tight and addictive, tempting you to read just a few more pages. There aren’t many action scenes, but when they come they are gripping and well-written. The author has fun with some of the weaponry he creates, especially in a scene right near the end which I had to reread to fully take in. And as for what is lurking just under the surface of the main story, I’ll leave it for you to discover. No spoilers.