First published back in July of 1999, British author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Warhol’s Prophecy’ once again involved a hard-hitting thriller plot, instead of the more familiar ground of splatterpunk horror which the author had built much of his earlier career from.

DLS Synopsis:
When fiver-year-old Becky Gibson went missing in a crowded shopping centre, her mother Hailey was convinced that something horrific had happened to her.  After frantically searching the numerous stores, the relief at finding her daughter alive and well was euphoric.  And it was all thanks to a young good-looking man who had found Becky by the fountain outside and brought her to the attention of the shopping mall’s staff.  A charming young man who introduced himself as Adam Walker.

However, when Hailey’s husband, thirty-four-year-old Robert Gibson, hears of the ordeal in the shopping centre, he’s far from happy.  Already at each others’ throats the vast majority of the time, the brief scare was mere fuel for the fire for Robert to use against Hailey.  

The bitterness had been present between the two of them ever since Hailey had found out about Rob’s affair with his co-worker - Sandy Bennett.  And since then she’d not let up about it.  However, they’d been seeing a marriage councillor; but still, she couldn’t help but bring the affair up at every opportunity.

And then from out of the blue Hailey receives a phonecall from Walker, having obtained her number from director enquiries.  Somewhat flattered by the attention that is being dotted on her by this handsome young man, Hailey agrees to meet up with him.  And with Rob going away on a business trip to Manchester for a couple of days, the timing couldn’t be better.

But as Hailey begins to find herself getting closer to the charming man who found her daughter, doubts begin to fill her head.  Having already gone too far with their blossoming relationship, Hailey begins to feel that Walker is becoming too overbearing for her.  And having been at the receiving end of a number of acts of mindless vandalism recently, thoughts of Walker’s potential involvement begin to flood her mind.  And the realisation that Walker might not be the charming man he projects himself as begins to overwhelm her.  Who has she opened herself up to?  And more importantly, who has she let infiltrate her family?

Meanwhile, twenty-eight-year-old David Layton is finally up for parole from Wandsworth prison.  However, before he is released, Layton has a couple of jobs he needs to do to ensure he’s set up for his return to society.  A couple of hits within the lock-up that he needs to pull off in order to keep things sweet with the East London gangs.  And then when he’s out, he’s got that one last score of his own to settle...

DLS Review:
Hutson launches headfirst into his ‘everyone-has-their-five-minutes-of-fame’ gritty thriller with a completely distraught Hailey frantically trying to find her daughter in a crowded shopping centre.  From these very first few paragraphs, the adrenaline is pumping at a thousand beats a second and the desperate scene is portrayed to nail-biting perfection – with the horrifying possibilities of the situation flooding the reader’s mind with the very worst thoughts.  And it’s here, at the very outset of the tale, where Hutson gets the reader in the very pit of their stomach with that horrendous feeling of helplessness.  The tension is incredible.  It’s a hell of an opener for the novel.  Hutson’s hitting the reader hard – but in a very different way than his previous work.

Once Hailey’s daughter is found the novel purposefully hits the breaks somewhat; spending time focussing instead on the difficulties within the Gibson family.  With Hailey and Rob’s marriage sitting precariously on the rocks, Hutson begins to paint an intricate picture of the emotional turmoil and dissolving trust which is being felt at the roots of the deeply troubled family.

Hutson plays all the usual cards in an attempt to get the reader to empathise with Hailey.  Indeed, the blossoming friendship between Hailey and Adam Walker is a pure symptom of Hailey’s need for someone.  Her life is a mess.  She’s been hit hard by the one person that is supposed to love her.  And now she feels lost and alone.  Vulnerable and desperately needing love – it’s the perfect setting for Huston to take advantage.

By now a good portion of the novel has already passed by.  In painting such an emotionally-heavy picture with the Gibson’s family issues, Hutson has adopted a more casually-paced approach than we are used to with his work.  Instead, ‘Warhol’s Prophecy’ is focused on the growing feeling of unease, frustration and hurt that is being felt.  It’s a novel that utilises just a small handful of characters and shows how they are slowly but surely destroying each other.

It’s certainly a conscious move away from his other work.  Replacing the blood and guts, or the callous no-holds-barred energy of his thriller titles, Hutson has toned down the intensity of the action and instead directed the tale towards the painful turmoil of a collapsing family unit (in which he introduces his psychotic nutcase). As such, the tale is crammed full of relationship issues, affairs, family problems, resentment, lies and bitter deceit.  And its outcome (as one would guess) is far from a jolly one.

Interestingly, Hutson has interspersed standalone chapters detailing the murders by real-life serial killers (Peter Sutcliffe, Andrew Cunanan, Ian Brady, Denis Nilsen etc) through the first half of the novel.  Indeed, these short chapters paint a further picture of the ‘five minutes of fame’ angle that the novel is ultimately aiming for.  And to be honest, it works.  Yes the insertion of these standalone chapters does break the flow of the novel a tad, but what the chapters add to the overall concept of the novel far outweighs the ever-so-slight jumpstarting with the chapters.

As the storyline escalates to its unavoidably destructive pinnacle, Hutson pulls out all the tension-building-stoppers and ends the novel on a magnificently intense high of adrenaline-pumping vengeance.  And if that’s not enough for you dear reader, then get yourself onto the author’s website where you can download an alternative ending that replaces the novel’s final chapter (Chapter 119) for a final in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound grim finale.

The novel runs for a total of 547 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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