‘Europe At Midnight’ is Dave Hutchinson’s follow up to his debut novel, the anarchically enjoyable ‘Europe In Autumn’, which I reviewed here in September 2015. I say follow-up rather than sequel because this book doesn’t follow the same character or continue the story from the first novel but the setting is the same and some of the elements introduced in the first book are followed up here. The action takes place in a not-too-distant future Europe of fractured countries and mini-states, where the world of international espionage and security grow continually more complex. To add to the multi-cultural mix, the semi-mythical Community is making itself known to the world at large, a country that exists within and besides the Europe we know, not appearing on any map and not accessible unless you know the way.
Within pages of starting, I was drawn right back in to Dave Hutchinson’s complex and compelling work. I remembered enjoying ‘Europe In Autumn’, but I’d forgotten how deliriously addictive it is. This book is the work of a crazed genius.
There are two main protagonists in the book and the opening section centres around Rupert, one-time literature professor but now the head of intelligence for a university campus. It doesn’t take long to become evident that this is no ordinary university but is a whole country of colleges and students that exist in a precarious post-coup state of conspiracy and deprivation, isolated from the rest of the world. Rupert is investigating war crimes, among other things, in this wonderfully-described setting that is a cross between ‘Inspector Morse’, ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Village’.
The other main character, Jim, is a British intelligence officer, who is drawn in to the mysterious world of the Community when he starts investigating an asylum claim. The layers of secrecy and security, compartmentalisation and paranoia are expertly put together by Dave Hutchinson. There isn’t the gung-ho, leaping-from-helicopters kind of espionage that you might get in a movie but there is delicate infiltration, counter-espionage, confidence-building and lots of bluffing, double-bluffing and possibly more layers of bluffing that I missed. Part-way through the book, I began to lose track of who was who and whose side they were on, but that is all part of the clever cover-building of the characters. There are several sections where the action jumps forward significantly and it takes a while to fill in the back story and figure out what’s going on again, especially when people have assumed new identities. This just adds to the fun, though. The English intelligence service is infiltrating the Community, they in turn are spying on their own people, the international smuggling/courier ring, the Coureurs, who featured heavily in the previous book, are involved and it seems that nobody is telling the truth.
The plot is more defined than in ‘Europe In Autumn’, where the individual sections were seemingly self-contained. In this book, there is a common thread but, with Rupert often getting side-tracked for long periods of time, there is no continually forward momentum but more of a series of developments and associated episodes that tell the story of the fate of the university campus and the Community’s emergence from the shadows.
I don’t think I can really portray in this review how absolutely, enthrallingly brilliant this book is. The plot is far too complex and indefinable to really explain. You’ll just have to read it.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: Solaris, 2015. 384 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-398-7)
check out website: http://www.solarisbooks.com/