Lockdown by Peter May #BookReview

London, the epicenter of a global pandemic, is a city in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer. Martial law has been imposed. No-one is safe from the deadly virus that has already claimed thousands of victims. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed. 

At a building site for a temporary hospital, construction workers find a bag containing the rendered bones of a murdered child. A remorseless killer has been unleashed on the city; his mission is to take all measures necessary to prevent the bones from being identified. 

D.I. Jack MacNeil, counting down the hours on his final day with the Met, is sent to investigate. His career is in ruins, his marriage over and his own family touched by the virus. Sinister forces are tracking his every move, prepared to kill again to conceal the truth. Which will stop him first – the virus or the killers?

Title: Lockdown | Author: Peter May | Publisher: Quercus | Pages: 399 | ISBN: 9781529411690 | Publication date: 16th June 2020 | Source: Purchased

‘Lockdown’ is a hard book to classify. Written in 2005 but only published this year, it’s a whodunnit set in an imaginary London that has been locked down following an outbreak of bird flu that has killed thousands. If it had been published in 2005 it might have been marketed as science fiction (or at least speculative fiction) and indeed it didn’t make it to the shelves then because Peter May’s publishers felt the setting lacked credibility. Fast forward to 2020, of course, and it all feels normal. In fact, I suspect May’s previously reluctant publishers couldn’t get this oven ready lockdown thriller out quickly enough.

The book’s hero is gruff, tough Scots cop Jack MacNeil. It’s his last day on the London Metropolitan police and he’s investigating the discovery of a child’s skeleton on the sight of a new hospital that’s being hastily erected to cope with the thousands of flu cases needing treatment. London is in complete lockdown, the streets deserted and normal life on hold. Helping Jack in his investigation is a brilliant, disabled forensic scientist.

May had clearly done a lot of research and conjures up an eerily familiar picture of a locked down city. The bird flu in his book is more lethal than Coronavirus, meaning the government action taken to contain it is stronger, with armed soldiers on the streets. Many other elements ring true though, there are illegal raves, the Prime Minster has caught the virus, the army are delivering food to people. Jack is still able to get a decent haircut somehow, but I’ll let that slide.

Given that it is set in 2005 rather than 2020 and features a different virus, the book ends up feeling like an alternative history thriller akin to Robert Harris’s ‘Fatherland’ or Len Deighton’s ‘SS-GB’. As is common with this kind of book, the investigation ends up going to the heart of the matter. The plot can feel a bit formulaic at times, but it’s a formula that works and it kept me gripped. As a mystery, it ends up relying perhaps a little too much on fortuitous coincidences rather than actual detective work but it’s still efficient and enjoyable.

Jack and Amy are engaging leads and there’s an excellent villain in Pinkie. Like his namesake he’s determined, chilling, seemingly unstoppable and yet strangely sympathetic. In the second half a new character, Dr Castelli, introduces some needed humour as the plot rattles along to genuinely thrilling conclusion.

‘Lockdown’ is a winner then, even if it took the terrible events of 2020 to get it into bookshops. It’s gripping, convincing, humorous and moving.


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