Seth Patrick (sethpatrickauthor.blogspot.co.uk)
"Sometimes Jonah Miller hated talking to the dead."
Jonah Miller is a reviver. As part of the Forensic Revival Service, his job is to bring the recent dead back to life – briefly – to obtain a witness statement from them concerning the circumstances of their death. When one of his subjects grows frightened of something that seems to be stalking her, and that thing then talks to Jonah, he finds himself on administrative leave due to stress-induced hallucinations. After further revivals, Jonah finds himself accessing memories that are not his own, and quickly learns that he is not the first reviver to have suffered these symptoms. As he digs, he discovers that someone – most likely someone with a lot of financial backing – is using revival for their own sinister ends, leaving it up to him – and the dwindling group of people that still trust in his sanity – to stop them before what they’re doing can have dire consequences for humankind.
From the opening pages – wherein we find ourselves witnessing our very first revival – it’s clear that we’re in the hands of someone who knows exactly what he’s doing. Before the opening chapter is done, you’ll be in awe at the ease with which Seth Patrick has scared the bejeezus out of you. Reviver is set in a world not unlike our own. The discovery of people with the ability to raise the dead – however briefly – is a relatively recent one, and Patrick incorporates a brief history into the story, answering moral and legal questions as he goes. Nowadays, forensic revival is a respected tool of the legal process, and first-person witness statements are accepted as evidence in court. In practical terms, this has made killers slightly more inventive and a lot more violent about how they kill people: fire pretty much destroys the chances of reviving someone, while beheading the victim is the only sure-fire way of ensuring that they won’t come back.
Along with the history, Patrick also has a detailed set of rules that govern when and how revivers work, whether they work in the private sector (moderating farewells between deceased and family) or for the FRS: resting periods between revivals, number of tries before the attempt is abandoned, etc. Fortunately, the author has managed to deftly thread these details through the story, so there’s never a point where everything slows down for a few pages of exposition, though, somehow, the reader comes away with a working, if necessarily incomplete, understanding of the science.
The story revolves around Jonah Miller, a young member of the FRS, and the journalist Daniel Harker, the man who first broke news of revival to the world. When Harker is killed, Miller is called in to assist in his revival, and discovers information that, when coupled with his previous experience, leads him to believe that the foundations on which his life are built may not be quite as stable as he once believed. Together with Harker’s daughter and his friend, FRS technician Never Geary, Jonah sets out to discover what – or who – is behind these strange new experiences. The strength of Reviver lies in how well-constructed the characters are, especially the central pair of Miller and Geary, and how much we, the reader, invest in them as we progress through the book.
As good-versus-evil plotlines go, Reviver‘s is hardly the most original, and there is a short period, as Jonah begins to uncover exactly what’s going on, when the more jaded reader (that’s me!) will wonder if there’s much point in carrying on. But it’s the concept of revival itself that provides the much-needed twist on an old horror trope, and makes this a standout novel in a year already packed with releases from established genre writers. The hook comes early in the story as we watch the end of Jonah’s first revival. In a single line, Patrick manages to turn the reader’s blood to ice and prove that what’s to come is more than just a slightly odd episode of CSI.
Macmillan, the book’s publisher, are clearly investing much in this promising young writer. As if the cover isn’t beautiful enough, it’s been given the interactive treatment, and smartphone or tablet users with the Blippar app will be able to watch the young lady come to life in a short but very disturbing video that gives a taste of what to expect within. Their promotional material does do the book a disservice, though, calling it "[o]ne of the finest urban noir horror debuts of 2013". Given the size of the field, that’s somewhere akin to the less-than-glowing "the best novel called Reviver to be published this year". I’m going to go one better and call it one of the finest debuts of 2013, in any genre. Expect to see this on my top ten of the year in December and, I suspect, on many other "best of the year" lists.
Crackling pace, believable science and characters worth spending some time with make Seth Patrick’s debut a must-read for fans of horror, crime, science fiction, noir. If you have ever enjoyed any of the myriad CSIs on television, or 2000AD’s Judge Anderson, then there is definitely something here for you. The ending, while wrapping up the events of the book, does leave plenty of room for a sequel, although Patrick has his work cut out for him following up Reviver. Without doubt, one of my favourite books of the year from an author whose novels are sure to become a regular feature on my bookshelves. You can’t afford to miss it.