First published back in December of 2014, British author David Moody’s novel ‘Strangers’ formed the author’s first full-length novel to break away from the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic subgenre that he has become so well known within.
After their lives took a sudden turn for the worse, thirty-seven-year-old Scott Griffiths, together with his wife Michelle Griffiths, his step-daughters sixteen-year-old Tammy and fourteen-year-old Phoebe, and their eighteen-month-old son, George, up and leave their hometown of Reddich; relocating to the small Scottish town of Thussock.
Upon arriving into Thussock, the Griffiths family find the town far from a thriving place to live. Located out in the middle of nowhere, with just a small collection of shops and not much else, they quickly find that Thussock has little to offer the young family. Furthermore, the community is small, with everyone seeming to know each other’s business. So very different from the sprawling suburban maze they’d left behind.
Tammy takes the relocation the hardest. Having moved a substantial distance away from her friends and her old life, readjusting to the quiet rural setting of Thussock hits the young girl hard.
However with Scott chomping-at-the-bit to start making adjustments to their new home, Michelle finds the family’s stress levels rising by the minute. But Scott first needs to find work so he can start bringing some income in. Luckily after just a day of looking, a job presents itself driving a delivery truck for a local builder’s merchants. With an income now secured, Scott wastes no time in commencing with his home improvements; foregoing any consideration for his family’s opinions on the matter.
Meanwhile, at the same time as the Griffiths family are finding their feet in Thussock, the town finds itself being plagued by an alarming series of vicious murders. The bodies of the victims left mutilated and horrifically defiled.
Questions are starting to be asked around the usually quiet streets of Thussock. The residents aren’t used to such terrible events as this happening in their small and close-knit community. And it’s not long before their suspicions invariably turn towards the newcomers. To the strangers…
I guess the first thing that really needs mentioning is that ‘Strangers’ is David Moody’s first novel to completely depart from the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic subgenre. It’s a niche that he has (quite rightly) become one of the absolute heavyweights within. And kudos to him for making the decision to move into some different terrain. In fact, to have his stories now venturing away from the relative ‘safe ground’ where his work has thrived is probably as exciting for the author as it is for the reader.
And with ‘Strangers’ Moody has done just that. In essence what we have is the story of a dysfunctional family, struggling with the stress of a complete upheaval in their collective lives, relocation to a far more isolated setting, and a move in which finds them in the thick of a series of horrific murders – with suspicion quickly falling their way.
It’s certainly far removed from his previous plots. However, even with the veritable magnitude of the situation being on a considerably smaller scale, and the premise steering clear of apocalyptic proportions, there’s nevertheless plenty of unmistakable ‘David Moody’ in there. The most pronounced and consistent of which is undoubtedly Moody’s ever-present draw to inherently flawed characters.
Interestingly the novel doesn’t really have an easily identifiable principal protagonist. It purposefully leaves out someone who we’re instantly supposed to root for. Someone who will see us through the thick of things. Someone who will hopefully emerge out of the other end, perhaps a stronger person for it.
What we have instead is Scott Griffiths. Looking back through Moody’s previous work, there’s possibly not been a principal character that’s been so flawed as Scott Griffiths. He’s thoroughly dislikeable. An angry, jealous, dominating, and egotistical idiot who gets on the back foot with everything. And it’s this guy who’s supposedly supporting and ‘holding together’ the family in this time of nerve-grating stress.
However, it’s not just the ingrained pitfalls in Moody’s characters that link ‘Strangers’ with his other work. As the killings continue, and the situation escalates to much more worrying proportions, elements of the ‘Hater’ (2006) books begin to emerge within the storyline. Indeed, Moody’s distrust for governmental authorities during matters of crisis, once again comes to the surface – with utterly compelling results.
Characterisation throughout the novel is absolutely top-notch. The characters and their interaction with each other - interaction that’s more often than not heated and brimming over with tension - are all incredibly believable. In fact, at times many of these characters feel as if they have been plucked straight off a Jeremy Kyle show, and subsequently dumped into Thussock to see how they fare up against Moody’s unseen killer.
Alongside the superb characters, the backdrop for the story is probably the second most defining element of the tale. Moody has breathed a convincing life into every lichen-covered brick, every rundown street, and every time-worn building of Thussock. The small rural Scottish town is so perfectly defined, so realistically portrayed, and so believably dismal, that it feels that it has to be real. In fact, I had to Google search the name before I was totally convinced that it didn’t exist. And, like with Stephen Gallagher’s ‘Chimera’ (1982), James Herbert’s ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ (1994) or indeed the vast majority of Guy N Smith’s novels, this isolated and out-of-the-way setting has afforded the novel a whole heap of potential for the storyline to capitalise upon.
Ultimately if you combined John Capenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982) with Richard Laymon’s ‘Flesh’ (1987), and stuck it in a rural ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ (1994) meets ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) setting, then you wouldn’t be too far off where Moody’s novel sits. But at the end, it still comes down to the strength of the characters, and their individual stories in the face of this terrifying situation, which makes ‘Strangers’ such an absolute triumph.
If you want to get lost within a novel, if you want to feel sucked into the spiralling problems of some utterly captivating characters, if you want to witness a small rural town come up against a horror that is escalating to terrifying proportions, then you need to pick up a copy of ‘Strangers’. Moody’s spilled the warm blood of humanity in the isolated reaches of a cold Scottish town. A place where unwelcome stares are your staple greeting. The setting alone is enough to draw you in. The characters define the novel. And the plot tears any familiarity there may have been apart.
I can’t stress enough how utterly captivating ‘Strangers’ is. It’s addictive reading from start to finish. And it proves once and for all that there’s a hell of a lot more to Moody than the end of the world.
The novel runs for a total of 280 pages.
© DLS Reviews