Saturday, June 06, 2020

Locked-down in London

by Ben Soton

Lockdown by Peter May. Quercus Publishing: London, 2020.
 416pp; £8.99 (£4.50 on Amazon). ISBN-10: 1529411696; ISBN-13: 978-1529411690.

If I am ever asked what I did during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 I will have to say: “Very little, I sat at home reading the occasional book, watched DVDs as well as writing this column.
This in no way compares to the health-workers, shelf stackers, transport workers and delivery drivers and not to mention bank staff, who kept the country running and saved lives.
I am still streets ahead of those who ignored the rules, painted swastikas on NHS signs, took part in stupid protests and spat at railway staff. However, in Peter May’s crime thriller, the lockdown is used to cover up the murder of a small child.
In Lockdown the virus ravaging London, referred to as the flu, is remarkably like COVID-19. It largely affects the lungs, resulting in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The death toll is a million and counting, and the resulting lockdown measures are much more severe: troops patrol the streets in gas-masks, special permits are required to travel, shops have been looted and lawlessness reigns. The Isle of Dogs, where there had been no cases of the infection, has declared effective independence from the rest of London.
Amongst this chaos a bag of human remains appears on a still-working building site and it is the job of Detective Inspector Jack McNeil, a Scotsman with a life overshadowed by tragedy, to solve this heinous crime. His investigation takes him into a world of lawless council estates, secret night clubs for the select few, as well as a foray into the world of deviant art. As he trudges through this netherworld, witnesses become victims to a bizarre assassin.
Who is this assassin? Who is he working for? What is he trying to cover up? These are the questions the reader continually asks throughout the novel. A high-level conspiracy soon begins to unravel centred around the murdered child.
Written in 2005, Peter May’s crime thriller was shelved because the publishers thought the plot too unrealistic. Now it is only too topical!
The story, whether intentional or not, is an argument for state ownership of the pharmaceutical industry. This column has argued that crime novels can lean towards the left as they expose the dark side of capitalist society, although not necessarily advocating its only viable alternative – socialism. Meanwhile the events mentioned above – the higher death toll, troops patrolling the streets and whole areas abandoned – could be a sign of things to come if lockdown measures are relaxed too early. I hope I am wrong.

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