The Thing On The Shore
by Tom Fletcher
Published by Quercus, 2011.
Ostensibly the story of friends Arthur and Yasmin, who work in a large corporate call centre as new boss Artemis Black arrives following a corporate takeover, this is only surface gloss to a deeper, more puzzling story. This call centre acts as a portal and something is trying to come through. Arthur, who we first meet watching his mother’s apparent suicide, finds himself at the core of things. His father is on the verge of a breakdown and his friends are acting strangely. Couple all that with a succession of mysterious events connected to the sea around the Cumbrain village of Whitehaven (not far from Sellafield nuclear power station) involving among other things talking crabs and sick whales and it becomes clear that a dark presence is at play and must be stopped..
Cue ensuing geeky adventures as our heroes battle the forces of evil. In this respect it’s a book reminiscent of films such as Shaun of the Dead, but it never aims to be purely comedic. It retains a dark tone throughout and the main characters are often at a loss as to how to deal with things, or even life itself. As the characters are the key to this book it’s a shame that there is a tendency to stereotypes, this is particularly the case with Artemis Black who really does have a comic book baddie feel about him to the extent that you expect him to rip his mask off at any moment. That gives the book a Scooby Doo feel which sits uncomfortably with the later gory events and the blacker tone generally.
But it’s the plot that really fails to deliver. Too many strands are left dangling in the Cumbrian sea breeze to satisfy the reader. This also means that the fairly weak main plot gets drawn out to a length it really can’t fill properly. There is gore here, particularly in the final section, there is also pathos and darkness but its all set against that confused plot which doesn’t allow a clear definition of the books themes. It is clear the author is aiming to address the issues of soulless corporations, outsiders in society and the power of individuals but these come across as clunky messages.
There are good points, some scenes are genuinely funny, others genuinely moving showing the author has skill, all he needs now is a more cohesive plot to bring together a world that works more effectively. Not a disaster by any means but for a book which aims for a clever literate tone it really only achieves b-movie status.