“I still wasn’t sure whether England was in Europe or not; I had the impression that the English would have quite liked to be in Europe so long as they were running it, but weren’t particularly bothered otherwise.” (Loc 4053)
This is the second book in the Fractured Europe series. The first book, Europe in Autumn, is a terrific read. I was led to it by blogger friends; one of the great things about the book blogosphere. It reads like a cold war spy thriller set in a near-future Europe filled with weapons that could’ve dropped out of a William Gibson Sprawl story. It’s also a very smart book that is peppered with moments of dry humor as well as containing some wonderful descriptions of food.
Europe at Midnight is not a direct sequel to Autumn; it can be read as a standalone story. But if you have read the first Europe book, Midnight will expand your understanding of it. It will also provide background to some of the events and places mentioned in Autumn. This was a bold move by Hutchinson, as he could easily have written a second book that picked up where the first one left off, continuing the adventures of Rudi the chef. Instead, he has opted for originality by broadening his fragmented Europe universe and bringing in new characters.
“Cronenberg pistol,” she said […] “The French call them ‘pork guns.’” And she brought her hand out holding something wet and shiny and pink and roughly pistol-shaped. “It’s a terrorist weapon,” she said. “Undetectable on scanners. Fires a single bullet made of bone.” (Loc 3751)
This time the narrative focuses on two main characters, Rupert and Jim, who make their first appearance in this book. Jim works for British Intelligence and is investigating the stabbing of a man on a bus at the start of the story. Rupert is a little bit more complicated. He is an academic and works at a place called “The Campus”. To say any more would be to spoil part of the story. How these two characters’ paths eventually cross is one of the main plots of this novel.
Despite its title, Europe at Midnight is set mostly in England. Hutchinson imagines a country struggling to recover from a devastating flu pandemic, as well as the “ongoing economic crises” which have led to the fracturing of Europe. His focusing on the Intelligence Service creates an atmosphere of distrust and tension. We are never quite sure who is on whose side or who is playing whom. This could make it easy to lose the plot if you aren’t paying attention, but this is no criticism of the book. It’s stimulating to read a story which requires you to put some work into it.
“Interesting times, and busy times. Also well-funded times. Even in the truncated United Kingdom, cash-strapped and austere after decades of economic near-collapse and the Xian Flu, the Intelligence budget kept increasing.” (Loc 1494)
I have tried to keep this review spoiler-free because this book deserves to be read with as little foreknowledge as possible. If you’ve already read Europe in Autumn, then you will have a good idea of what you can expect. But prepare to be surprised, too. Like its predecessor before it, Europe at Midnight is an exciting, original and riveting read which takes you to a near future Europe and England that feel both strange yet familiar.
The good news is that Dave Hutchinson has already written and released the third book in the series, Europe in Winter. The even better news is that there is going to be one more Europe book. Here is a quote from the author’s website:
“I know I told people to shoot me if I even looked as if I was going to write another Europe book, but there will be one more, Europe at Dawn. Again, because I realised there’s stuff I haven’t tackled in the earlier books. The refugee crisis and its effects on Europe’s southern borders, what I’m starting to see as a growing split between the wealthy countries of the North and the poorer ones of the South, a two-tier Europe. Canals. I can’t believe I overlooked canals in the other books. I plan to throw the fucking kitchen sink at this one. But this will be the last; there’s a limit to how many world-shaking conspiracies a series of novels will stand. Also, I like the idea of a Quartet.”