Simon Kernick pulls out all the stops in his action-packed new novel Stay Alive. There are car chases, people being hunted through the woods by gun wielding maniacs, women tied up in cellars, serial killers, children being lured by potential paedophiles – try to think of any kind of terrifying scenario, and the odds are you will find it in Kernick’s novel.
The story opens with Amanda arriving home unexpectedly to disturb, what she believes to be, her husband and his mistress having a rendezvous in the upstairs bedroom, but turns out to be a cold-blooded killer who has murdered both husband and mistress in a most horrifying manner, and then sets off in hot pursuit of Amanda. Unbelievably, Amanda gets away and lives to tell the tale to handsome DCS, Mike Bolt, who is in charge of the large scale search for the notorious serial killer “The Disciple.” The Disciple happens to like killing couples and painting satanic emblems in blood on the bedroom walls, and seems to fit the profile for the killings of Amanda’s husband and his girlfriend.
As Amanda goes into hiding in rural Scotland, the plot introduces further characters: one disturbed ex-cop, Keogh, who is in charge of finding and delivering Amanda to his mystery boss; a family of four who are going on a seemingly innocent outdoor adventure canoeing up the river; and Scope, a renegade, who is trying to keep out of trouble by working for a canoe company.
The bodies start to pile up as the hunt for Amanda begins, and all the characters converge in a forest in the Scottish countryside. Meanwhile, back in London another hunt is taking place as Mike Bolt is finally closing in on The Disciple.
Simon Kernick is a prolific, best-selling writer who is known for his fast paced crime and political thriller series. In Staying Alive Kernick, again, uses the “race-against-time” scenario to drive the plot; and while this is an effective device to convey the action at breakneck speed, the lack of depth and nuances within the characterisations and the writing style detract from some of the more clever developments in this novel. Action works best if there is enough substance behind it to make the reader feel drawn into the story, to be intrigued by the characters and to understand – or at least wish to understand – their motivations, so in this sense the novel simply did not work for me.
However, if you love a read full of frenetic action revolving primarily – as the title suggests – around the characters’ chances of “staying alive”, and don’t mind stereotypes or gratuitous violence, then Stay Alive should have plenty to hold your interest.
REVIEWER: Tanya Allport
TITLE: Stay Alive
AUTHOR(S): Simon Kernick
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House