Monday, 11 August 2014

The Lazarus Prophecy by F.G. Cottam - horror meets mystery meets historical thriller

The Lazarus Prophecy by F.G. Cottam The Lazarus Prophecy (9 September 2014) by F.G. Cottam

I am (as most people reading this probably know) a fan of F.G. Cottam, and have enjoyed all of his books. I enjoyed The Lazarus Prophecy, though, more than anything he's written since the unbeatable Dark Echo. It's both a return to form and a departure for the author: the former because it feels very original, very considered and carefully crafted, has more than one perspective and type of narrative, and takes so many turns before the conclusion is reached; the latter because it is not a straightforward (if there is such a thing) supernatural/horror narrative, it also has mystery and historical elements and a background which allows the social and political ramifications of the story's events to be explored.

The basic premise is that a murderer is targeting women in London, confounding the police because he seems impervious to detection - leaving no incriminating trace of himself at his crime scenes despite his habit of scrawling blasphemous messages, written in archaic languages, above the bodies of his victims. The detective leading the investigation enlists the help of a theologian, leading to the discovery that all of this has some connection with a secretive order of Catholic priests located somewhere in the Pyrenees. Meanwhile, the lack of resolution of the murder case leads an extremist right-wing organisation to whip up antagonism among Londoners, adding a very real edge to the 'end of days' atmosphere that permeates the story. This portrayal of a city on the brink of chaos brought to mind two of my other favourites from this year: Sarah Lotz's The Three, in which inexplicable events precipitate political dissent and the breakdown of international relations, and Louise Welsh's A Lovely Way To Burn, which depicts a nightmarish version of present-day London ravaged by a pandemic.

The blurb on Goodreads and Amazon doesn't make the setup sound great; the description on NetGalley, which likens this book to The Da Vinci Code, is possibly worse (the comparison may attract certain readers, but it does the book a bit of a disservice - Cottam's writing is not the by-numbers style of Dan Brown). Although there is a serial killer angle to the plot, it is handled well, and the violence (which is actually minimal) is not gratuitous. As usual with Cottam's books, the characters are believable and likeable, and there are numerous strong and complex female characters. It's these characters who drive the plot forward, and that does help to balance out the fact that the villain tends to target women. I don't think the blurb does the best job of getting this across, so I feel it's important to underline here that the women in this story are not just victims: it is largely a female-driven book. In fact, the main male character, while he does make a contribution, plays the sort of sidekick/love interest part which might traditionally be the only significant sympathetic role available to a female character in a thriller.

I could have devoured this book in a few hours, but I tried to make it last longer, stretching it over several days, because I felt there was much to savour. I particularly liked the scenes taking place at the remote French monastery, a place perfectly created in its sense of atmosphere, eeriness and import. There's also a historical diversion - delving into an apparent connection between the modern-day London killer and Jack the Ripper - which is executed well and retains its own distinct character, while still fitting with the rest of the narrative. If you're a fan of the author already, I'm confident you'll love The Lazarus Prophecy. If you're a fan of either horror or mystery and would like to try something that has an element of both, I enthusiastically recommend it.

I received an advance review copy of The Lazarus Prophecy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Rating: 9/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Booklikes | Bloglovin' | Pre-order on Amazon: Kindle

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