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by Nick Gifford

(Puffin, £5.99, 234 pages, paperback, published 5 January 2005.)

Review by Stephen Palmer

cover scanIn Nick Gifford's fourth novel we meet Liam, a young man coming home from boarding school on an ordinary Friday evening. Liam walks into his home to find it done over, apparently by burglars. He rings his sister on his mobile phone, and then the police arrive... and it is at this point that the strange things begin to happen.

Nick Gifford excels at making ordinary family life strange and weird. His previous three novels have been original and readable: Piggies, a horrifying novel of factory farming, blood and vampires: Flesh And Blood, a wonderfully skewed evocation of homestead claustrophobia: and Incubus, a cautionary tale with a wicked sense of humour. In this fourth novel Nick Gifford tries something a little different. Erased is a novel of paranoia, authority, and the shifting perceptions of young people struggling with their entrance into the adult world.

After the 'burglary' Liam slowly finds his life being erased. The normality he was so comfortable with is changed or removed bit by bit. Are the police on his side, or do they serve a more sinister function? (Two of them, after all, are called Mr Smith and Mr Smith.) Why do the other normal police not believe his story? Why has his neighbour of many years apparently forgotten who he is? Through asking questions like these, and following a parallel investigation at his school -- NATS, which is a special school -- Liam finds out that his former life is gone forever. Slowly, he realises that something strange and irreversible is happening in his life. To reveal what this is would be to spoil the ending, but it is pretty strange and it is irreversible...

As Nick Gifford proved in Flesh And Blood, making ordinary day-to-day events seem creepy is quite an art. You have to have an ear for dialogue and a sense of how life can sometimes hang on the narrowest of threads. The use of a mobile phone in Erased is a particularly clever facet of the writing, as mobiles are commonplace for teenagers. In this novel, however, an element of paranoia not seen before is added, making Liam's story -- in fact, his family and his entire school -- seem sinister. This atmosphere is also conveyed via the relationship between Liam and his sister Kath, a relationship which breaks down in an unexpected yet convincing way. It is the heart of the tale, though the reader perhaps does not realise that until after the book is finished.

This is another quality read by an author marking out interesting territory. Readable and enjoyable, as ever.

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