First published back in 1981, ‘The Jonah’ was Herbert’s eighth novel to be published. Moving slightly away from the splatterpunk and downright gritty horror styles that his previous work adopted (or indeed created), this well written and intriguing tale delivers a well-balanced mixture between a thriller and a horror novel.
Following a string of episodes of particularly bad luck that has labelled Detective Jim Kelso as somewhat of a Jonah, the downcast detective is transferred into the drugs squad.
Soon enough Kelso is placed on an assignment located in the remote coastal fishing town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, in order to discover the reason behind how a good and wholesome local family came into contact with the hallucinatory drug LSD, that almost saw the death of them during some extreme and vivid hallucinations. At the same time, Customs & Excise officer Ellie Shepherd has been assigned to the same task, with officials worryingly that the drugs came from some illegal imported narcotics that spilled into the local water supply.
The plot thickens as Kelso discovers that there's a lot more than just honest fishing work going on in this quiet location. Kelso’s suspicions turn to the locally positioned businessman – Sir Anthony Slauden – a war hero, patron of the arts and chairman of a pharmaceutical company, whose business dealings and reasons for a constant supply of water to his plush Eshley Hall estate leave many unanswered questions in the air. As Kelso and Shepherd join forces to try to get to the bottom of this slowly unravelling mystery, they are about to encounter much more than they bargained for.
This is more than just a few locals making some money on selling on a few narcotics. This is a huge incredibly lucrative industry that the owners will do absolutely anything to protect. Before Kelso can acquire the proof he needs for a drugs raid, he suddenly finds himself in the thick of it all. Kelso has the challenge of his life in front of him. A man who bad luck follows like a plague needs to forget the stigma he’s had laid upon him and fight for everything he’s ever believed in. There’s suddenly so much at stake. So much to lose. So much that Kelso must uncover and fight against. This is the time when the Detective’s fortunes must finally change...
Very much a fast-paced hard-hitting thriller, Herbert’s novel ‘The Jonah’ initially draws the reader into the mysterious circumstances that surround the unlikely presence of LSD in the small coastal town of Aldeburgh. Herbert keeps up the mystery, only uncovering the truth behind the whole situation in gradual stages.
Once the storyline has properly set itself in motion (about a third of the novel in), the suddenly action comes thick and fast, with regular cliff-hangers punctuating each chapter, making the book near-impossible to put down. Herbert throws in sudden explosions of violence, sex and edge-of-the-seat action at regular points; barely allowing the reader to take a breath before the next twist hurls the reader into another series of desperate events. The pace just keeps snowballing from here on, with the remaining two-thirds of the novel dedicated to an elaborate and gripping thriller than suddenly escalates into dramatic mind-blowing proportions.
The character of Kelso (a typical Herbert style anti-hero) is written in a very human and easy to identify with manner. Furthermore, the interlacing subplots (particularly surrounding the personal life of Kelso and his developing relationship with Ellie Shepherd) that run parallel to the main thread of the storyline add a good depth to the novel as a whole, whilst fleshing out the characters and their respective pasts.
Recurring flashbacks that haunt Kelso throughout the tale add an intriguing aspect to the tale, with a big question mark constantly hanging over the character's initially unknown background. Obviously, Herbert purposefully draws this out until the very end, building up the suspense and allowing for a truly spectacular twist finale to take place.
This dramatic twist ending is as amusingly over-the-top as it is predictable. However, this unsurprising twist doesn’t put any stops on the sheer explosion of events that collide into this downright maelstrom of action that collimates in the unveiling of the hideous truth that has been a constant undercurrent during the tale. Yes it’s spectacular. Yes it’s energetic. And yes it’s completely and utterly gripping. It’s got everything you want for an ending for this type of novel.
All in all, ‘The Jonah' is another excellent example of how to write fast-paced, energy filled fiction with a no-holds-barred approach always in mind. Herbert clearly knows how to ensnare his readers, how to keep up the tension, and ultimately how to produce a solid piece of high-adrenaline fiction.
The novel runs for a total of 253 pages.
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