Monday, 17 June 2013

Book Review | Reviver by Seth Patrick

Jonah Miller is a Reviver, able to temporarily revive the dead so they can say goodbye to their loved ones — or tell the police who killed them.

Jonah works in a department of forensics created specifically for Revivers, and he’s one of the best in the business. For every high-profile corpse pushing daisies, it’s Jonah’s job to find justice for them. But while reviving the victim of a brutal murder, he encounters a terrifying presence. Something is on the other side watching. Waiting. His superiors tell him it's only in his mind, a product of stress. Jonah isn't so certain.

Then Daniel Harker, the first journalist to bring revival to public attention, is murdered. Jonah finds himself getting dragged into the hunt for answers. Working with Harker's daughter Annabel, he becomes determined to find those responsible and bring them to justice. Soon they uncover long-hidden truths that call into doubt everything Jonah stands for, and reveal a sinister force that threatens us all.


If, for a time, we could talk to the dead, what would we say to said?

Jonah Miller, duty reviver for the Forensic Revival Service, asks the dearly departed how they died, in an effort to find out why, and by whose hands. Understand that his subjects have all met a hellish end, mostly through means cruel and unusual, and their posthumous testimony, however hard to extract, could make all the difference if and when their killers are caught.

Though Jonah and his co-workers are out for justice, in the better-paid private sector, other revivers act as mediums between the living and the lost... albeit for the right price. Mercenary as this practice often is, at the end of the day, what wouldn't we give for the opportunity to whisper sweet nothings or simply say goodbye to our much-missed loved ones?

On the other hand, what would we be taking away?

The truth is, even now, no-one knows. Though people have come to accept the practice of this dark art—largely thanks to the sensitive way the journalist Jonathan Harker dealt with its initial discovery—much about the process remains mysterious. And with no easy answers forthcoming in the years since the landmark first revival, funding for further study has all but dried up. Yet there are a few still looking into the possible consequences, such as Dr. Stephanie Graves, who specialises in remnants.

From the get-go we know that "hearing the dead bear witness to their own demise was never pleasant." (p.1) Headaches and nausea are to be expected, but poor overworked Jonah soon starts suffering from more serious side-effects. In short order he's hearing voices that are not there, seeing things that simply cannot be, and experiencing the leftover memories of people he has revived.

But being a reviver is all that Jonah has—in fact it's all he has had since the horrendous death of his mother—so he plays down the various complications. He makes a token trip to see an in-house shrink, then gets back to work as if nothing untoward had happened. However, he can't keep up the act after he's called in to revive the bloated, blackened corpse of the aforementioned Jonathan Harker, who in his last days had been investigating a group of particularly militant Afterlifers.

As you can imagine, there has been some resistance to the idea of ghost whispering, and the Afterlifers represent this perspective:

"What hostility remained gradually coalesced into a protest group called the Afterlifers, well-funded from an easy collaboration of disparate religious interests who saw revival as desecration, an unacceptable disturbance of the dead. But loud as they were, they found their calls for moratorium ignored. Direct action from more extreme members brought public disapproval. Their message of outright objection to revival took a back seat, replaced by more successful calls for greater control, rights for the dead, and a system insuring revivers were licensed." (p.15)

Still, there are those who disapprove of the process. Those who are prepared to use violence on revivers, never mind all the good they indubitably do. Jonathan Harker's killing is just the first suggestion of their elaborate plans, and given his involvement—not to mention the remnants of the murdered journalist with him still—Jonah is quickly drawn into this conspiracy. Soon, he and Harker's daughter Annabel find themselves racing against time to expose a chilling plot before the Afterlifers are able to realise the rest of their threats.

In the main, Reviver is a legitimately gripping conspiracy thriller, but the author—a Northern Ireland man who develops video games for Sega in his day job—also incorporates elements of horror into his first novel, as well as a healthy helping of crime fiction. Individually, neither of these aspects are especially impressive—though both have their moments near the beginning of the book—but presented together, like slight yet satisfying starters before a main meal, they complement the core story cannily, helping to make Seth Patrick's debut distinct.

Just as well, I warrant, because parts of Reviver would be by-the-numbers otherwise. Its elevator pitch is interesting, but not dissimilar to a number of others made in recent memory, and though Patrick's execution of his premise is perfectly acceptable, it is too pedestrian to pull one through the occasional doldrums. The narrative unfolds much as you might expect, with scant few surprises that have not been telegraphed earlier.

Additionally, there's quite a bit about Reviver which seems... not clumsy, but indecently convenient. Various relationships simply don't feel real, particularly as regards the one-dimensional women who pretty much flit in and out of existence relative to Jonah's indiscriminate interests. The only character to really come off is our anxious protagonist's pal Never Geary, who plays a charmingly maternal role and offers light relief in the interim.

Last but not least—before this becomes a laundry list of drawbacks, which Reviver definitely doesn’t deserve—expect a whole lot of explaining, including one mad scientist who elaborates, at alarming length, on his dastardly masterplan. On the whole, Patrick tells substantially more than he shows over the course of the story... but I’d argue that this is equally suggestive of his debut's strengths.

You see, it really is very direct; refreshingly so if you're in the right frame of mind for a few evenings of fast-paced fun. Reviver is a no-nonsense novel which values thrills over chills and holds banter in higher regard than character, but credit where it's due: the reading experience is resolutely thrilling, and the chatter, especially where Never’s concerned, is certainly snappy.

The high and mighty might be inclined to describe this as a dearth of depth—and it is, there's no getting away from that—but what Reviver lacks in terms of texture and density the author makes up for with an excellent sense of immediacy and quantities of unbridled excitement. In sum, though Seth Patrick has next to no use for poetry in his prose—an issue emblematic of many of his debut’s minor missteps—Reviver is a timely reminder that stories need not be beautiful to be good. This first novel has small problems aplenty, then, but these don’t detract from the fact that I really enjoyed reading it... and there's value in that, I think.


by Seth Patrick

UK Publication: June 2013, Tor
US Publication: June 2013, Thomas Dunne

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