First published back in August of 2002, British horror author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Hybrid’ formed the fourth instalment in the Detective Shaun Doyle series, following on from ‘Renegades’ (1991), ‘White Ghost’ (1994) and then ‘Knife Edge’ (1997).

DLS Synopsis:
Christopher Ward was having a tough time.  Twelve years ago he knew only success - now look at him.  Every day was a battle for him now.  After twenty-three years of professional writing, Ward was stuck with writer’s block.  Not that it really mattered anyway.  He had no publisher, and no one seemed to want to read his work anymore.  He was yesterday’s news.  And as he once again reached for the whisky bottle, he couldn’t help but think that perhaps it was time he too moved on.

However, just as Ward was beginning to give up hope with his writing – a new novel starts to pour out of him.  The words seemingly writing themselves.  Each day the writing continues to flow through him.  The story - an action-rich thriller titled ‘Fresh Skins’ - bringing hope for him once again.

But as the days pass by, and more and more of ‘Fresh Skins’ is written – Ward finds that he can’t remember writing large chunks of it.  Waking up in the morning, he finds that the computer is turned on and another thirty pages are ready to be printed off.  It’s as if the novel is writing itself.

A novel involving a hard-faced forty-four-year-old Counter Terrorist Unit agent named Sean Doyle.  And when two pounds of Semtex explode on board a public bus within Belfast’s crowded city centre – Doyle is straight in on the case.

Early suspicions point towards two individuals in their twenties - Matthew Finan and Declan Leary.  Two young men who have never been arrested…who have never done time….two fresh skins.

But when the IRA’s Northern Command tells Finan and Leary that what they’re doing has to stop - that it’s not helping the Cause – the terrorist fighters point-blank refuse to give in.  The peace treaty in Ireland means nothing to them.  They know they must keep fighting.  And they know there must be more bloodshed.

Meanwhile Doyle has located the whereabouts of Matthew Finan’s sister Shonagh Finan.  After approaching her under the pretence that Matthew sent him, Doyle manages to force the address of where he can find Matthew out of her.  But when Finan and Leary arrive at the address – things don’t go according to plan for Doyle and Finan is killed whilst Leary gets away.

Soon enough Doyle is called in by his superior – Jonathan Parker.  There he is informed that he is to be removed from the CTU as a direct consequence for his recent actions.    Sean Doyle is considered unfit for the job.

Meanwhile, five newly released IRA men are ambushed and slaughtered on their way home.  Doyle suspects the UVF.  And if his hunch is right, then the precarious Peace In Ireland that the government is working towards could come to an end before it even got started.

Doyle can’t just walk away from it all.  With or without the support of his government – he’s seeing this thing through…

DLS Review:
What we have here is an interestingly constructed story-within-a-story, with the severely depressed writer, Christopher Ward, taking the place of Hutson himself in penning another Sean Doyle novel.  It’s a strange set-up.  Especially considering that not only has the character of Christopher Ward come from Hutson’s previous novel ‘Heathen’ (1992), but furthermore the ‘Fresh Skins’ story involves the character of Doyle and therefore follows on from the whole Sean Doyle series of novels too.  As such, by implanting this particular tale within Ward’s bizarre own story, Hutson has taken the series away from where it was and made it into something entirely different.  Fiction within fiction.  Certainly a brave move to take with one of his much-loved characters.

Indeed, the whole principal idea behind the novel’s construction draws similar parallels to that of Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘Lunar Park’ (2005) or indeed Clive Barker’s ‘Mr B. Gone’ (2007).  And on the whole, Hutson has achieved quite a strong and well-constructed piece of cleverly inter-woven fiction.  Like with much of Huston’s other work, there’s a definite crossover between horror and that of a gritty thriller.  Indeed, ‘Hybrid’ emphasises this crossover particularly well with the ‘inner’ ‘Fresh Skins’ plot lending towards that of a thriller, whilst the ‘outer’ Christopher Ward plot leans much more towards that of the horror/dark speculative fiction genre.

In order to successfully pull the whole book together, Hutson separates the two intertwined stories by utilising two distinctly different fonts for the text on each.  This simple device, instantly allows the reader to identify which particular perspective the next chapter is coming from (Ward’s or Doyle’s).  Furthermore, the switching between fonts adds another air of ‘faux-believability’ to the Doyle story; allowing it to seem as if it is a written transcript and not in fact the actual ‘Hybrid’ story.

Pace-wise, Hutson once again delivers the goods like no one else can.  Even if you’re not exactly a fan of his work, you can’t deny that Hutson can keep together one heck of a rip-roaring pace.  Okay, so some aspects of the plot feel a little stripped-down at time – characters and premise-setting-surroundings feel like it’s just their barebones on show.  But because of this, there’s absolutely no taking your foot off the accelerator from start to finish.  And there’s just more room to keep the over-the-top fun pouring in.

Expected the expected throughout the novel and you won’t be disappointed.  The ‘Fresh Skins’ storyline offers up plenty of ferocious violence and aggressive energy - all under a constantly looming terrorist threat.  Outside of this you’ve got the dark psychologically-geared ‘outer story’ which spends its time gradually projecting an increasingly sinister air.  As such, the novel doesn’t really suffer that much from its reasonable predictability.  Even the almighty revelation at the end (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t guessed) can be seen from a veritable mile off.  But who gives a shit?  It’s just a fun-filled action-rich ride nevertheless.  So just sit back and enjoy.

The novel runs for a total of 463 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Sean Doyle’ instalments:

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