"The Breach" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Titan Books
Written by M.T. Hill
2020, 384 pages, Fiction
Released on 17 March 2020
If you’re after an unconventional science fiction thriller featuring elements of horror, a dash of David Cronenberg and a smattering of J.G. Ballard, then M.T. Hill’s The Breach might be right up your street. Although I enjoyed this book, I cannot vouch for understanding all of it; whether that is just me or a literary ploy, who knows? I tackled a few sequences more than once, in which it pushes the boundaries of conventional science fiction with its clever imagery, oppressive atmosphere and cerebral concepts that seem enticingly just out of reach.
The plot moves between two narratives, ‘The Journalist’, which follows a young reporter Freya Medlock, and the second, ‘The Steeplejack’, telling the story of Billy Shepherd, known as Shep. When the novel begins the two characters do not know each other, but their storylines eventually converge. The backdrop to The Breach is the fascinating world of urban exploration, which is shortened to urbex, where abandoned, inaccessible, dangerous or off-limit buildings are explored and mapped by groups or lone urban explorers. Their finds, routes and top tips are often posted online for other explorers to follow-up or develop. They often play high-risk games of one-upmanship, wanting to top other explorers by increasing the danger levels in their jaunts.
Bearing in mind that the story is set in a version of Britain which has a faint dystopian whiff to it, urban exploration is dangerously illegal and if caught prison awaits, but if you’re an adrenalin junkie like Billy Shepherd then it is well worth the risk and the place he feels most free and alive. Until he gets caught that is, and his place of work is landed with a huge fine which comes back to haunt him. Billy works as a steeplejack and has connections to a recently dead climber called Stephen, who Freya Medlock is investigating after he died under mysterious circumstances, possibly suicide.
Freya sniffs out a potential story once she discovers an odd-looking photo of Stephen lurking on a secret urbex website, realising he was tee-total and questions the validity of the medical reports which concluded he was drunk. Her sleuthing leads her to Billy, who she sees as an opportunity to infiltrate the hidden world of urbex and uncover information about Stephen. Although the overall mystery revolves around the location of his death, I enjoyed the build-up with both main characters with the action smoothly moving between the ambitious journalist and the steeplejack. It took a while for the pair to meet physically, but it was worth the wait as it led to some of the strongest sequences in the book, with Billy taking Freya on her first exploration.
Although I enjoyed the final third, these are the sequences which are most confusing and some readers may find this frustrating. However, cerebral science fiction rarely fits all the jigsaw pieces together and The Breach certainly does not. Also, both parts of the novel open with a brief third narrative, ‘The Landowner’; this is someone who lives close to the exploration site, however, even though these sequences are great the author did not return to them. I appreciate they are just painting part of the bigger picture, but I would still like to have read more from this third viewpoint, as it is clever and worthy of more page time.
I love weird books and The Breach fits that bill. It might not be an easy read, but it’s a trippy story which will quickly suck you into this strangely different version of Britain and is also very convincing in the manner it portrays urban exploration. Towards the end there are scenes in which the team of steeplejacks are working so high into the sky I got vertigo just reading it, with the story getting wilder the higher they climbed. Strange, but a very worthwhile and unique experience.
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