By Jon Mayhew
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 14088 03929
This terrific thriller/chiller is essential reading for anyone who enjoys getting so involved in a book, they can't physically tear themselves away.
Mortlock is an outstanding debut novel that boasts not only a chilling plot, unusual characters and edge-of-the-seat suspense, but also pages and pages of very superior storytelling. Jon Mayhew is a new and classy storyteller who will certainly attract a loyal fan base with this book.
Mayhew sets up his story with an intriguing prologue that does just what a prologue should do - it hooks readers and makes sure they want to know what happens next.
Three explorers, Mortlock, Chrimes and Corvis are on an expedition to Africa's Abyssinian jungle in 1820 to track down the amaranth flower, a fabled bloom that gives eternal life. They find the precious plant, but an unseen force instils deep fear in them as they discuss how to remove the flower from its habitat. Terrified by their discovery, the three men agree to leave the flower in place and return to London without their prize.
Thirty years later, the three men have forgotten about the amaranth. Or have they? Chrimes has become a stage magician performing death-defying tricks with Josie, his young ward. Lord Corvis lives in an isolated mansion enjoying the life of a rich gentleman. Yet what has become of Mortlock? He seems to have vanished.
Josie can hardly remember her mother and has never been told the identity of her father. Chrimes adopted her when she was a baby; that is all she knows. But something is troubling Chrimes; he is drinking heavily and is distant with Josie.
One evening, Chrimes is visited by three old women dressed in black. Josie watches in horror as the women turn into vicious, giant black crows that begin to attack Chrimes. She somehow manages to fight them off - but what were they? And what did they want with her guardian?
Knowing that the three women will return for him, Chrimes tells Josie that she has a twin brother who was adopted by a London undertaker at the same time as he adopted her. Josie sets off to find her brother, and walks straight into a death-defying adventure that Mayhew tells at breathtaking pace.
The author has set out to write a chilling adventure story, and he succeeds at every count. What's more, in Josie he's created an unusual heroine for whom all readers will be rooting.
When her strange brother Alfie enters the story there is interesting counterplay between these two central characters. The mystery at the centre of the novel - and the villains of the piece - are innovative and totally credible.
Mayhew should be given credit for neatly tying up the ending of this first story - with a spooky and hair-raising finale, rather than leaving it open-ended.