Claudia, by Anthony Trevelyan, interweaves two stories – one set in contemporary time and the other in an imagined future. It opens in a dystopia where an unlikely assassin is sent a message by a former employer who she then travels to meet. Her journey and reflections offer a window into a world that has been damaged by an event, Helios, gradually explained. There are four short parts to this tale, the final one revealing the links between it and the rest of the book.
The contemporary plot begins with an unexpected visit. The protagonist, Dia, is working in an office in Birmingham when she is called to reception to meet a man she hasn’t spoken to in fifteen years. Samson Glaze is a highly successful businessman but when Dia was a child he lived in a campervan. They met when he and his companions, the Thin Love Collective, parked up near the shabby tower block where Dia lived with her often distracted and regularly drunk mother. His visits became annual events until Dia turned thirteen when Samson left the travellers to set up his solar panel business. To her mother’s chagrin, Dia hero worshiped the man. With his stories, games, grungy coteries and dogs, he was the most fun she’d ever known in human form. He paid her attention, never patronising because of her age. He told her she was destined to do great things.
Dia was not the only child entranced by this nomad and his lifestyle. Samson’s son, Reggie, harbours happy memories of those years. Younger than Dia, he grew up through the changes in his father’s fortunes. They do not appear to have been of the benefit some may expect. Samson tells Dia that Reggie is troubled. Attempts to help him have led to rows, the latest to a fight that ended with Reggie cutting off communication. Samson asks Dia if she will try to talk to Reggie and report back. The boy now lives in a flat close to her own.
Dia would do anything for Samson, but when she calls at Reggie’s flat it is revealed that he has gone away. He has joined a strange group who call themselves Tarantula. Samson is concerned it could be a cult and that his son is being held under duress. When Dia’s ordered world suddenly becomes disordered she decides to take some time out and show her gratitude to Samson by bringing Reggie back to him.
The twists and turns of the plot keep the reader guessing who the bad guys might be. There are business rivals with the power money brings, Tarantula and its leaders offering troubled young people an alternative to modern society, shady characters who turn up in unexpected places. All have a history, a reason for their actions and connections.
The writing is well structured and easily retains reader attention. Descriptions of Manchester, with its new build architecture and ultra cool Northern Quarter, are deliciously entertaining. The irony and humour throughout neatly balance the more serious aspects. The power of the sun, literally and metaphorically, is an effective motif.
I was concerned that the message, the warning in the story, would veer into partisan territory and affect enjoyment. This is avoided – Helios is believable. There is a degree of ambiguity in certain threads but these do not obviate resolution of the various intrigues.
A witty and at times poignant observation of human behaviour. This is a recommended read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Sceptre.