Publisher: John Murray
Publication date: January 2016 (Paperback)
In this second book in the Plague Times Trilogy, Death is a Welcome Guest, the ‘every person for themselves’ reaction to the global pandemic continues as it threatens to indiscriminately wipe out the world’s population. As it cleaves through families to leave a single survivor, or in most cases no one at all, I began to wonder which group should be considered the most fortunate – the living or the dead.
The increasingly lawless state encourages small pockets of communities to gather. They appear to observe minimal social graces while a feral streak is itching to get to the surface. Sinking into biblical regression is just one of the options for those who have tried or lost everything else and the author reinforces the ferocity of their situation as scenes of panic, repulsion, and defensive tactics are portrayed vividly but in perfectly timed wake up calls.
With the combination of a variety of characters and their degrees of despair, the story marches on at quite a pace until the most unlikely hero emerges in a stand-up comedian by the name of Magnus McFall. His initial problems began when he tried to save a girl from being assaulted only to find he was arrested for the offence himself. When ‘The Sweats’ hit, being trapped in a cell with his putrefying cellmate would seem like a walk in the park compared to what awaits him outside his door.
We follow his escape from prison under the reluctant wing of fellow inmate, Jeb Soames, an enigmatic loner with one or two skeletons in the cupboard. As with most people in this story, it’s unwise to make assumptions based on someone’s past or first appearances as their behaviour continually challenges your expectations.
As Magnus makes his way out of London to travel home to Orkney my liking for him grew. His mother’s telephone rings out which should tell him everything he needs to know, but he clutches to the vaguest hope that all is well. For the moment it’s all he’s got as it’s not just the threat of illness or his new convict companion he has to worry about, it’s the casual strangers they meet whose cause of death is swathed in suspicion. While the ‘whodunnit’ element isn’t overly complex I enjoyed the creeping suspense immensely.
Facing the harsh reality of a civilisation on the verge of imploding, Death is a Welcome Guest offers both the best and the worst of people. To learn that some people have preserved their integrity when others have lost their moral compass is reassuring, even in fiction.
Very much looking forward to reading No Dominion (Book 3) in 2017 to see how the trilogy concludes. Hopefully we’ll see more of our first survivor from A Lovely Way to Burn (Book 1), as Stevie Flint makes only the briefest appearance on this occasion. Not to worry though, Magnus McFall confidently holds the spotlight from beginning to end.
Rating: 4/5 (With special mention to the woman in the ‘Village in Bloom’ competition – what a trouper.)
(Source: My own purchased copy that’s been sitting on my shelf far too long!)
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
Magnus McFall was a comic on the brink of his big break when the world came to an end. Now, he is a man on the run and there is nothing to laugh about.
Thrown into unwilling partnership with an escaped convict, Magnus flees the desolation of London to make the long journey north, clinging to his hope that the sickness has not reached his family on their remote Scottish island.
He finds himself in a landscape fraught with danger, fighting for his place in a world ruled by men, like his fellow traveller Jeb – practical men who do not let pain or emotions interfere with getting the job done.
This is a world with its own justice, and new rules.
Where people, guns and food are currency.
Where survival is everything.
Death is a Welcome Guest defies you to put it down, and leaves you with questions that linger in the mind long after you read the last page.
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
Louise Welsh is the author of six highly acclaimed novels including The Cutting Room and A Lovely Way to Burn. She has been the recipient of several awards including the John Creasey Memorial Dagger and the Saltire first book award. Death is a Welcome Guest is the second novel in the Plague Times trilogy.