From the British playwright, screenwriter, and author of an award-winning children’s trilogy: a first adult novel about a hitchhiker’s nightmare journey into a police state.
He lives with his family but stays in his room, eating alone. Our nameless narrator is a recent college graduate who would rather sponge off his father than job-hunt, his spiritual malaise caused by his parents’ divorce. Then he decides to take a trip, no destination in mind. He gets a ride on a truck on a three-day run, speeding through the friendly Europe of euros and open borders to arrive at a grim, heavily guarded frontier. After a difficult crossing, he and the trucker encounter a roadblock manned by armed thugs, where the trucker is tortured and killed, though the hitchhiker jumps free. The thugs burn the books from the truck, but the hitchhiker salvages one (he also has a mysterious envelope given him by the trucker). He walks to the nearest town, where a beautiful young woman contacts him, and he falls asleep in her car. He wakes to find himself in a room with a dead man. Chief of security, says the woman, Petra, member of a revolutionary cell. Those books, written by a gentle humanist now in exile, were intended for readers listed in that mysterious envelope. The hitchhiker has no choice but to join the cell. After another roadblock and shootout, from which the revolutionaries emerge victorious, Petra tortures the lone survivor. That’s too much for the hitchhiker, who races into the woods. All this is wonderful dark suspense, but how do you top it? Nicholson peaks too soon, before the halfway point, and the thrill is never quite recaptured in the second half, as the hitchhiker makes discoveries about himself, his profound love for his parents, and the importance of kindness to strangers. There’ll be entertaining cat-and-mouse games with the secret police, leading to an extravagant Hitchcock-style climax, and a closing postmodernist twist provides an existential dimension.
Highly promising, even if flawed.