First published back in February of 2016, Irish author John Leahy’s novel ‘Unity’ offered up a haunting vision of Armageddon brought about through one man’s selfish and sociopathic actions.

DLS Synopsis:
From the very beginning Chuck Gates knew there was something different with his third son.  As a child Jonah Gates shied away from any interaction with other children – preferring instead to simply be left to his own devices.  He showed little to no interest in any games or activities that his twin brothers spent their time doing.  He had no hobbies, and simply preferred to mope around watching television shows just to pass the time.

However, whilst on a camping trip, Jonah’s older brother, Kelsey, is bitten by a racoon and contracts rabies.  The young boy dies from the viral disease in a matter of a few short weeks.  Whilst the Gates family attempt to deal with their tragic loss, Jonah becomes fascinated by the idea of a microscopic entity being able to kill a human so brutally.

From that moment onward, Jonah Gates became obsessed with viruses.  As the years went by, his obsession put him in the front of the class at biology, then on to university and finally a Masters.  And it was as his studying came to an end that he was approached by General Alec Soranor from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  The General informed Gates that they’d discovered a new virophage which was exhibiting unique characteristics.  They were looking for someone to modify the genetic makeup of this newfound virus-of-viruses.  The objective being to turn the virus into a killer of human viruses.

Of course Jonah accepted the appointment and quickly threw himself into the work.  However a little into his fourth year on the project Jonah’s eyes fell upon the up-and-coming actress Mary Leydon.  On their first meeting Mary was taken in by the virologist’s casual good looks.  However it soon became apparent to Mary that there was nothing between them and bluntly ended their relationship.

But Jonah had never been a man to take rejection from women lightly.  With a track history of stalking and harassing all of the women he’d previously been in contact with, it’s not long before Jonah’s hassling the young actress with unwanted flowers and phonecalls.  Before turning to the police Mary tries to get Jonah’s employer to intervene.  But no amount of persuasion from Soranor will purge the thoughts of Mary Leydon from Jonah’s mind.

However Jonah has an idea of how he can make it all work out.  She may have moved on from him but he hadn’t forgotten her.  And now he will do anything to have Mary all for himself.  Even if it means killing everyone else…

DLS Review:
Oh how I’m such a complete sucker for a good apocalyptic / post-apocalyptic novel - especially if it’s got a thick slab of originality to it.  And that’s precisely what you’ve got with John Leahy’s latest offering.  Here you’ll witness the very birth of Armageddon.  You get to sit back and watch that malignant seed of destruction slowly develop and grow.  The first inklings of sociopathic tendencies carefully entwining with high intelligence and an obsession with viruses.  Let’s face it - it’s got all the worrying ingredients for one pretty damn lethal cocktail.  It’s the very definition of a ticking time bomb.

Undoubtedly one of the key strengths behind ‘Unity’ is how Leahy shows the entire timeline of the mankind’s downfall - from the birth of the man who would bring humanity to its knees, on through his childhood, his upbringing, and finally the combination of all those events that would lead to him unleashing his terrible virus.  The sheer breadth of the timeline seems almost epic in its proportions.  In fact it feels so much more than the sum of its pages.  And somehow Leahy’s crammed it all in there.

The tale’s been divided up into three distinct parts – each taking up roughly a third of the overall length.  Part One details the birth, family life, upbringing, and eventual career in virology for our antagonist - Jonah Gates – in a nutshell laying down the very first seeds of his destructive future.  Running alongside this is the dark underside to the man – his deep running sociopathic tendencies and failure with the opposite sex.

Part Two is all about Gates’ work with developing the viruses, along with his escalating obsession with Mary Leydon.  Here we get to see how everything starts snowballing towards a seemingly inevitable catastrophe.  It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.  You can almost see the horrors of the carnage before the collision takes place.

The final part is post-virus outbreak and tells the story of Jonah (the antagonist) and Mary (our eventual protagonist).  Here Leahy paints a vivid picture of a horrific new environment, where survival is brutal within a dog-eat-dog world.  Every page from here on is laced with tension and heart-racing suspense.  And Leahy’s executed his vision of a post-apocalyptic new world in an absolutely haunting clarity.

Another key element to the novel’s success is in the virus itself.  Leahy hasn’t simply opted for your run-of-the-mill ‘snivels-then-death’ option.  Instead we have a cycle of incredibly well projected symptoms that start to show their face post-infection.  From initially exhibiting early flu-like symptoms for a brief period the suffer appears to get better before they begin trying to eat random inanimate objects, then trying to have sex with anything they come across, and finally death takes them.

There really are so many little threads, subplots and tightly-linked elements to this story.  And although intricately interwoven, the story never gets bogged down in any of these parallel running plotlines. In fact, the tale reads with an effortless fluidity along with a consistent and solid pace that gradually increases with the natural momentum behind the plot.

Characterisation is also absolutely spot on.  You sympathise with Mary’s utterly horrendous situation.  You’re dragged into her plight and quickly build strong emotional bonds with her as she attempts to come to terms with what she’s now faced with.  Similarly, but on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll start to build up an inner hatred for Jonah and his mind-bogglingly selfish delusions.  Leahy makes him seems so real, so nauseatingly plausible, even in such a wildly destructive format.  It’s enough to make your skin crawl.  I kid you not – these characters are as fleshed-out as a Stephen King creation – just with far less bulked-out baggage.

I’m very conscious that this has been a near-constant shower of praise…but it’s hard not to.  ‘Unity’ is one of those books that’s just a sheer pleasure to read from start to finish.  It’s captivating, compelling and troublingly thought-provoking.  It’s not often I sit here contemplating a perfect score for a book – but hand on heart that’s where I am now.  And I’ve got to say I think ‘Unity’ deserves it.

Powerfully evocative, expertly executed and terrifyingly poignant.  A veritable masterclass in how to write a modern-day apocalyptic novel.

The novel runs for a total of 243 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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