First published back in September of 2016, ‘Point Of Contact’ formed British author Richard Ayre’s second full-length novel.

DLS Synopsis:
When an elderly man is found in his Newcastle home, reduced to nothing but ashes, ex-fire fighter turned fire investigator Ian Fenwick is called in to assist the Northumbria police force with their investigation.  The local forces are baffled by the incident.  The victim’s entire body seemingly burnt to nothing but ashes, whilst nothing else in the room shows any sign of having come into contact with the fire.

Spontaneous Human Combustion is thought to be the possible cause.  It’s a phenomena that Fenwick knows well, having lost his wife a number of years ago to such a freak occurrence.   However, something still doesn’t add up.  Upon his first inspection of the corpse, to Fenwick SHC doesn’t look to be the culprit for the man’s death.

And then the ashes of a second body are found.

The cause of death seems to be the same.  It no longer looks like a freak occurrence is responsible.  All of a sudden the authorities are now treating the deaths as suspicious.  However just as Fenwick’s about to be taken off the case, another two victims are reduced to ashes in a brilliant flash of bluish white light.  However, this time the horrifying incident happened before their very eyes.

Across a wide area of Newcastle it appears someone or something is reducing seemingly random individuals to nothing but ashes.  And with the deaths escalating, Fenwick now finds he’s being pursued by a gang of thuggish killers, hell bent on instigating the next apocalypse.

The stakes are high.  Together with the Northumbria police force and a young homeless girl with strange abilities, Fenwick must locate those who are truly responsible for the deaths, and bring this horrific mass extermination to an end once and for all…

DLS Review:
Richard Ayre is one of those authors who writes with such a wonderful British charm.  It’s unpretentious and perfectly in-keeping with the setting of his tales.  It’s something that James Herbert always managed to achieve in his work.  An undisguisable honesty that shines through the stories.

Ayre’s previous offering was his playfully pulpish horror debut ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ (2015).  It offered up lashings of over-the-top violence, 80’s style horror, and a bucket load of bloodspill.  Yeah, it’s pure pulp horror through and through.

‘Point Of Contact’ on the other hand is a completely different beast altogether.  Here over-the-top pulpiness has been replaced with an entirely more sinister undertone.  Indeed, horror has been traded in for a far more science-fiction driven narrative - although still with plenty of creeping darkness infiltrating the sci-fi mystery chiller.

For the most part, the novel offers up a very slowly unravelling mystery.  At first Spontaneous Human Combustion is held as the principal culprit for the seemingly random deaths that are occurring around Newcastle.  Echoes of Tobe Hooper’s teeth-gratingly poor movie ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ (1990) nervously spring to mind during the first couple of chapters.  Luckily, Ayre’s got a heck of a lot more nestled up his sleeve than a couple of frazzled corpses.  And it’s not long before a second parallel running storyline accompanies Fenwick’s investigation.  This secondary thread is cloaked in just as much mystery as the main tightly-paced plotline – only with far more tension motoring it along.

The arrival of the thugs (in the form of Fletcher and Blunt) in the novel is a key moment.  It’s here that the whole thing cranks up a much needed couple of notches.  Indeed, from here on the tale takes on a whole new gritty persona, with the tension stretched to gut-wrenchingly palpable limits.

Interestingly the characterisation in the novel is moderately hit and miss.  Our principal protagonist - Ian Fenwick – is your classic Herbert-esque anti-hero.  He’s flawed with an instantly likeable honesty about him.  Furthermore both Blunt and Fletcher are just as fleshed-out.  Their blood chillingly cold personalities, together with their lack of any self-preservation and a dependence on intimidation and violence, makes for two damn menacing antagonists.  However, outside of these three characters, the handful of others to play a part in the tale, if I’m honest, feel more like cardboard cut-outs rather than flesh and blood individuals.

Within the first few chapters Ayre introduces a love interest for Fenwick in the form of thirty-four-year-old DS Laura Goddard.  It’s a pretty standard technique for instilling layers into the tale alongside some further depth to our principal character.  Coupled with the added baggage of Fenwick’s troubled past, it brings out a particularly heart-warming human element to the otherwise continuously bleak tale.  Nevertheless, Goddard remains one of the weaker characters, which ultimately stunts the reader’s engagement with their developing relationship.

That said, this is still one hell of an entertaining and gripping read from start to finish.  There’s more intrigue and unravelling mystery in it than you shake a smouldering stick at.  It’s also got a shed load of momentum behind it, which pushes the tale on at a chaotically snowballing pace.  To finish it off Ayre throws down one heck of a finale, with explosive action and adrenaline-pumping violence served up on a platter of nail-biting suspense to keep you gripped to the very last page.

Yeah, there are a few cheesy moments scattered here and there, but they don’t really detract from the overall enjoyment level of this incredibly entertaining read.  If like me you loved the work of the late James Herbert, then trust me, you’ll want to check out Richard Ayre.  This man can write stories that’ll drag you in and keep you in the tale’s grasp until the very last page.

The novel runs for a total of 257 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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