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The Turning

by Paul J Newell

(Appian Publishing, £7.99, 252 pages, paperback, published June 2006.)

Review by John Toon

cover scanLleyton Quinn is a demand forecaster -- he predicts market trends and fashions by observing crowd behaviour. So when members of his sample crowds start to drop out and disappear, he notices a pattern emerging. The police pick him up for questioning in connection with the disappearances -- he's been caught on CCTV following one of the victims -- but it turns out DS Melissa Keller wants him to help her investigate the phenomenon. Soon both their lives are in danger as they uncover an unprecedented threat to the future of human society.

It's not immediately obvious that The Turning is a self-published book. It's been very well proof-read, it's got an attractive cover illustration, it retails at the same price as a regular paperback novel, but a little digging online reveals that Appian Publishing's only other title is a book of poetry by the pseudonymous Lleyton Quinn. And this explains one bothersome thing about this book: it doesn't appear to have been anywhere near an editor.

Let me explain. Quinn, for all this talk of "demand forecasting", is basically an old-style hard-boiled detective, and as such he is prone to narrate the story in somewhat hard-boiled language: cynical, dry, with more than a hint of swagger. Unfortunately Newell has a habit of pushing his hard-boiledness too far, so that it goes past the cynicism, past the swagger and into bathos and extreme clunkiness. I have some illustrative examples to hand:

I didn't sit down, didn't say anything. I just stood there motionless, looking into Melissa's expectant eyes. As I did so we both dished out handfuls of respect for the pervading silence that parried around us victoriously. (p.49)

What does that even mean anyway?

And that was exactly what I was going to do next -- as long as something totally unexpected didn't happen.
     Then something totally unexpected happened.
     Which was ironic. (p.54)
It's true, this was an immensely intriguing conundrum, of slightly greater consequence than Find-A-Word in Mega Puzzle Weekly. (p.63)
Mondays are known to be slow but this one was going backwards. Eventually it scuttled off into a corner that we like to call the past. (p.155)

I actually quite like that one.

I suddenly felt a little uneasy, as if I were about to be given the talk about the birds-and-the-bees, [sic] by my father. Which was maybe not surprising, as Lock knew an awful lot about birds and bees -- in the literal sense. (p.196)
Doing this to her had left a bad taste in every sensory receptor of my body. (p.210)

I had to share those with you, dear reader. Put the stick down. This is what I'm talking about: a decent editor could have flagged up some of these horrors and reduced the clunk quotient considerably. There are moments of beauty in here too, notably Quinn's dream sequences, but they are few and fleeting.

The story itself takes a long time to get going, because Newell, through his Quinn alter ego, spends much of the first couple of hundred pages telling the reader what a terrible world we live in, how we live and work like hive animals and how we've lost touch with the wonders of nature. That's not exactly a newsflash, and neither, come to that, is the big revelation at the end. Shorn of its fantasy elements and edited for your spoiler-free reading pleasure, what it comes down to is this: humans occupy a tiny and insignificant place in the broader cosmos, but our rarity makes us important. Anyone who's had a conversation at 3am under the influence of one or more intoxicants will have heard this before.

So I pushed through the slow lead-up and painful prose, and my reward was cereal box philosophy. Caveat emptor.

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