"The Notch" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Encyclopocalypse Publications
Written by Tom Holland
2021, 368 pages, Fiction
Released on 10th March, 2021
The Notch was originally published back in 2020 by Cemetery Dance as a limited edition and has recently been re-released by Encyclopocalypse Publications, who specialise in breathing new life into older or out-of-print novels. It is well worth having a good look at their website, as they have an impressive range of film novelisations, reprints, audiobooks and obscurities I never knew existed.
Tom Holland is significantly better known as a film director and screenwriter, with a career dating back to the early eighties. His directorial debut was the cult classic Fright Night (1985), which he followed with Child’s Play (1988) and a host of other noteworthy flicks. Some of these other films and TV shows include Class of 1984 (1982), Psycho II (1983), Thinner (1996), The Langoliers (1995) as well as scriptwriting and acting credits. After four decades bouncing around Hollywood in various guises, The Notch is Tom’s first novel.
Encyclopocalypse has made an excellent choice in picking up The Notch for a reprint, as it is much too good a book to be hidden away as a pricey Cemetery Dance limited edition hardback. Given Holland’s vast experience with film and scriptwriting, I did wonder whether a version of this novel had originally been written with television or film in mind (I’m thinking of stuff like The Twilight Zone) and later reworked into a novel. It is a very enjoyable pacey read, but for a near 400-page novel, lacks much in the way of resolution or answers. It is built around one simple idea: A kid appears from nowhere who can heal people, with other plot-lines evolving from this concept, and the reader deserves more answers than is provided. If this were a film or television show then it probably would have been adequate, but books do not work the same way and as the time investment is significantly longer than watching a throwaway movie, it is easier to feel short-changed.
The novel opens with a ten-year-old boy walking out of an American desert and being discovered by a local who rents quad bikes to tourists. Then, out of the blue, the kid disappears and he is given a lift by a family returning from visiting their grandparents. The kid (he is never named) notices that one of the teens in the car, Whitney, who has a big part in the novel, has a cut finger which he touches and heals. At the next truck-stop the kid disappears again and then pops up in another lorry, this time with a guy smuggling drugs. Noticing the driver has a busted hand, the kid heals it and vanishes shortly afterwards and so it goes on. Meanwhile, Whitney begins to have horrible visions, as does everybody the kid touches, in which lots of people die horribly.
Shortly afterwards, the boy sees a pet dog run over and killed on the street and he seemingly brings the mutt back to life. However, this time the miracle has been filmed on multiple mobile phones and the media gets wind of it and the hunt for the boy is on whilst the sharks begin to circle. The chase element of the story takes up a fair chunk of the book, probably too much and is a significant diversion from the supernatural strand of the story.
The second storyline is fascinating, particularly because The Notch was obviously written long before Covid-19, but nevertheless has startling similarities. A virus appears in Africa, with the first symptom being coughing blood, with death following shortly afterwards. Scientists cannot identify how it spreads and soon worldwide air travel is banned, but the virus continues to appear in random places and experts wonder whether it is connected to the boy. I really enjoyed the scary disease aspect of the story, as it realistically takes in broad worldwide sweeps as the pandemic spreads, introduces lots of characters (who are quickly killed off) and really had my thinking of the Covid 2020 uncertainties of the first UK lockdown in 2020. The two plots are obviously related, but again there could have been a stronger connection, or at least better explanation.
Far too much of the plot gets bogged down with a large number of characters hunting for the boy so they can be ‘touched’ and some of these gangster types have far too much page time, even if they have their own inner-conflicts, self-serving or otherwise. And the boy himself? Because he never speaks, there are severe limitations on what the author could do with his character. Obviously, there are the Biblical similarities of Jesus walking out of the desert, but none of them are explored in any depth and the book is set over too short a time for a cult or a religion to be built around him, which might have been a cool twist.
The Notch is an entertaining blend of thriller, fantasy and apocalyptic horror and although it is not going to challenge the best work in this uber-competitive genre, it is a fun and easy read. The character shifts kept the story moving at pace and the presentation of the virus is cleverly done as it creeps closer to the action in America and the events surrounding the boy. If Tom Holland is looking for further diversions from film and television, I hope he has another novel in him.
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