"Off the Grid" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Black Rose Writing
Written by John Hunt
2019, 253 pages, Fiction
Released on 31st October 2019
I discovered John Hunt’s fiction last year and was completely bowled over by The Tracker, which was one of my outstanding novels of 2018 and featured in my ‘Top 10 of 2018’ on this site. I then quickly backtracked and was equally impressed by his debut Doll House, which is an entirely different kind of horror; deeply psychological, grisly and incredibly powerful. His new novel has all the hallmarks of a very skillful writer at work with another notable change of direction, convincingly mixing up horror with thriller.
Hunt’s latest work, Off the Grid, cleverly shrouds the main thread of the story until the action is well underway, which unfolds in several stages. It opens with a shocking scene; Graham Richards is out shopping with his family in the local mall when a man enters and starts shooting indiscriminately. Graham is shot in his face, with the bullet passing through his cheek, and his family is killed. Picking up the story several years later, Graham now lives in the woods and has dropped out of society, just wanting to be left alone and he visits town as infrequently as possible. He is horribly disfigured and self-sufficiently grows his own food, has solar energy and is striving to become 100% independent of the outside world. He had me thinking of the damaged main character in the excellent recent film Leave No Trace, who does something very similar. Around the time he is doing his shopping, a little girl disappears and Graham ends up being the principal suspect, mainly because of the way he shrouds his face draws suspicion. This is only the opening sequences of a much more complex plot of which I am not going to reveal to avoid spoilers.
Like Doll House, this new novel is littered with deeply unpleasant characters, which on the surface lead very ordinary lives, even boring, but when scratched slightly deeper, real darkness lurks. Guys who have good jobs, wives at home, children at good schools, but have a very different face when they go on holiday without the family and let their hair down in all sorts of horrible ways. Another standout feature of Off the Grid is the police detective Jodie Reyes, an outstanding character which links the first and second parts of the novel together. Readers might be interested to know that John Hunt works as a police detective and upon discovery of that revelation made me scrutinise the novel with a fresh eye.
After meeting Graham Richards, Jodie looks beyond the horrible disfigurement and sees the man who lost his family and more. As a senior black policewoman, she has to continually prove herself in a white man’s world and earn their respect the hard way. Graham initially pushes her away, but she breaks his defences down by introducing the unlikely Harry Potter fan to J.K. Rowling’s adult alter-ego Robert Galbraith, which I thought was very cute. Surprisingly, Richards drops out of the novel for long spells and you may begin to question whether he is a major character at all, but when he returns it is with a major bang.
The dynamics between Graham and Jodie are outstanding and although not particularly romantic, are convincingly sweet. The story does have a strange supernatural element, but it does not dominate proceedings like in The Tracker, and make sure you follow the action very closely to pick up on the subtle nuances the author drops along the way, as they could easily be missed.
I did not find out John Hunt was a police detective until after the completion of this great novel and as this is the first of his books to have a police officer as a major character, you cannot help wondering what ‘inside’ information he brings to his writing. The brilliant Michael Connelly frequently refers back to his days covering crime journalism as the backbone in creating the realistic and vivid world which surrounds Harry Bosch, so perhaps this author might do something similar? The police have key roles in both Doll House and The Tracker, so it is a possibility. Like those two earlier books, I also devoured Off the Grid in a couple of days and he has a style which I find very relaxing to spend time with, even when the content gets dark.
I’ve referred to Hunt’s previous two novels several times, and with good reason. There are many better-known horror writers on the market for you to try, but this very talented Canadian has really caught my eye and I recommend him wholeheartedly. All of his fiction provides rather unique experiences, with only The Tracker being dominated by a supernatural story. The others are more based around the horrors of man, with Off the Grid having a very subtle blend of both. John Hunt can really tell a story with the minimum of fuss but with maximum impact and his tremendous blend of dark fiction and horror is well worth investigating further. If you’re in the market for fast-paced page turners, he is a winner all the way.
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