Author: Conrad Williams
Publisher: Virgin Books
288 pages • £7.99
Everyone thinks they’ve got a novel in them. Some people do, and around 23% of those who try will come up with something we’ll enjoy reading. The other 77% seem drawn to horror fiction. Sadly, The Unblemished is the latest sub-standard shocker to fill space on our “average” bookshelf.
The story starts when photographer hero Bo is handed a map by a stranger in a pub. We’re then introduced to a range of characters whose paths are destined to cross, whether logic likes it or not. Sarah Hickman, on the run with her disease-ridden daughter, Claire, and Malcolm Manser, an amputee fetishist/psychopath pursuing them. All three feel like they’ve fled other fictions.
Bo encounters them as London is engulfed by ancient insects determined to consume the capital. The collection of crowbarred characters and creatures make The Unblemished feel more like a sticker album than a novel, and it’s filled with so many London references that we wouldn’t be surprised if Williams was a pen name for Boris Johnson, trying to make Ken Livingstone’s city seem as phantasmagorical as possible.
Conrad is certainly sure of his story’s location but he hasn’t as firm a grip on his tale’s timeframe. Nods to Jaws and Bob the Builder make The Unblemished feel dated before it hits Waterstones. And as for the Tube/internet sequence… when will scribes learn that reading about someone scanning the net is as interesting as watching someone do it?
Perhaps the most terrifying thing in The Unblemished is the ending, which naturally leaves things wide open for a sequel. We’re just not sure if our “average” shelf can take the strain of any more...