After 20 years of economic recession, the gaps between England’s rich and poor are wider and starker than ever.
Young lovers Lizzie and Adam are keenly aware of the challenges they face: She’s been raised in a bubble of privilege, while he’s from a family barely scraping by due to his father’s disability. Against this backdrop of economic and social inequity, the hot new recreational drug is Death, which gives its users one extraordinary last week of life, followed by, well, death. Adam and Lizzie are curious, but they steer clear of Death until Adam’s brother, Jess, who’s been keeping their family afloat financially as a chemist, is suddenly revealed to be a member of the revolutionary political group the Zealots (akin to the hacker group Anonymous, if they resorted to self-immolation and suicide bombings). Shattered by the news of his brother’s secret life and presumed death, Adam attends a disastrous party with Lizzie, steals a stash of Death and in a reckless moment of grief, takes the drug. From there, the plot—jam-packed with ill-advised escapades, secret identities, fights and chases—threatens to spiral out of control, but in spite of some Grand Guignol violence administered by grotesque villains just this side of Carl Hiaasen, Burgess’ surprisingly gritty hero and heroine are able to enjoy some muted hopefulness for their pains.
Refreshingly rooted in the issues of the day, Burgess’ near-future thriller stands out. (Dystopian thriller. 15-18)