By Marty Mulrooney
The Anomaly – the debut novel of Hollywood screenwriter Michael Rutger – is described by publisher Bonnier Zaffre Books as “a thriller that grips like a vice – Michael Crichton meets Stephen King.” Of course, publishers have been known to exaggerate before, but The Anomaly more than lives up to the promise of its glowing reviews and extensive marketing campaign. Not all secrets are meant to be found – especially those hidden away in deep, dark caves – but it’s already too late for amateur archaeologist and The Anomaly Files host Nolan Moore…
Ken joined me, glaring at his phone. “Barely a bar of signal,” he muttered. “It’s like the fucking dark ages down here.”
”Excellent,” I said. “Because who knows what secrets our forebears cherished, the deep spiritual insights they shared, when not enslaved by technology’s endless grip upon our –“
”Shut it, you tool.”
The Anomaly Files is a web show that deals with “unsolved mysteries and stuff”, as described so eloquently by the registration clerk at the latest hotel Nolan Moore and his team are staying at. Located only 20 miles from the Grand Canyon, the hotel has been chosen not only for it’s budget-friendliness (i.e. cheapness), but it’s proximity to the supposed location of Kinkaid’s cavern, a hidden cave that may have been purposely kept out of the history books by the Smithsonian for reasons unknown… or might just not actually exist at all.
For this latest expedition, Nolan Moore – minor internet celebrity and more talented than his current profession might imply – is joined by his boss and best friend Ken, a late fifty-something producer who appreciates a good cheeseburger; Molly, an assistant producer destined for better things; Pierre, a talented, friendly and good looking cameraman who annoyingly isn’t French; Feather, a soft-spoken woman from the Palinhem Foundation, the show’s new sponsor; and Gemma, a sceptical and outspoken journalist who thinks Nolan is a complete and utter hack.
“The Anomaly Files is not a spiritual enterprise, Ken.”
“Isn’t it? You say one thing in each episode that makes someone see the universe as a bit less tedious, or makes them ask questions about the world, it’s job done, mate. Whether it’s ‘true’ or not, or what that snide millennial bitch Gemma thinks… who cares? The truth is for teenagers and hippies. We’re too old and ugly for that crap. ‘Wake me up, make me think, or buy me a drink. Otherwise, fuck off.'”
“You have unexpected depths, brother.”
“No, I’m a twat. So are you. Now get your head straight and let’s go find this fucking cavern.”
Of course, much to the surprise of all involved, following an extensive hike and boat ride the expedition does eventually find Kinkaid’s cavern. This should come as no surprise to the savvy reader. However, almost everything else that follows this fully expected plot development is a surprise. Following a calculatedly slow build-up, Nolan and his friends find themselves trapped in a cave system that has remained hidden from the world for over 100 years with very good reason.
Reluctantly exploring in complete darkness with limited artificial light, the group’s predicament slowly becomes more and more terrifying as things go increasingly wrong. In lesser hands the more outlandish plot developments might have seemed hokey, but Rutger writes with such vivacious energy – blurring the line between historical fact and fiction so deftly – that the crazy theory Nolan comes up with begins to sound more and more believable. They aren’t alone in Kinkaid’s cavern; this is very a scary book at times, but it’s tempered beautifully by dialogue that is effortlessly charming and funny, and plenty sweary. In particular, the surprisingly touching relationship between Nolan and Ken is the beating heart of this dark, claustrophobic adventure.
I didn’t move.
There wasn’t anywhere I could go.
The sound got closer, and closer. Then it stopped.
The thing, whatever it was, felt as though it was only a yard or so from me now. There was a faint, visceral odor, like wet fur. A noise, like a sniff, then another.
A quiet, moist sound, like jaws opening.
I did my best to make my peace with God, the world, and everything and everybody within it.
Then I heard it trotting away.
The Anomaly is a difficult book to review without giving too much away. However, there is one small secret that can safely be shared; Michael Rutger is actually Michael Marshall, author of The Straw Men and most recently the dark, funny and thought-provoking Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence (writing as Michael Marshall Smith – he’s a wonderful storyteller no matter which moniker he uses). There is even a small nod at the end of The Anomaly to an earlier novel that will make fans’ heads spin; there is huge potential here for a crossover. Until such a time arrives – and we can only hope – The Anomaly will have to do. Rest assured, you’ll struggle to find a more thrilling page-turner this year.
10 OUT OF 10