Filler content in the third

Here’s a little something that first appeared in The Third Alternative #38:-

THE THIRD PERSON: STEVE MOSBY

Orion hb, 264pp, £9.99

The time is the near future; the police force has been privatised, advertisers take it in turns to project their logos on the face of the moon and the internet permeates every aspect of life. Jason is haunted by feelings of guilt over the disappearance of his girlfriend Amy. As a student she was raped and Jason feels that he was not supportive enough in helping her deal with this, and so, in an effort to understand the psychology of men who rape, she went off to meet a sex offender with whom she made contact through the internet, a rendezvous from which Amy never returned. The police hold out little hope, but Jason refuses to accept defeat, neglecting his job in favour of trawling little known corners of the internet in search of leads. Eventually he hooks up with Kareem, who he believes to have been Amy’s last contact, and through posing as a young girl who wants to be raped he lures the man into a trap. But this is just the start of Jason’s journey into the heart of darkness. He himself is a suspect in the case of another missing girl, and there are powerful people with a vested interest in having Claire found. She stole something of value from them and they want it back. Jason fears that both Claire and Amy were the victims of an artist working in a unique and deadly new medium, one with the ability to fill his audience with either joy or ultimate terror. He follows a trail that leads him from a rich collector to the underbelly of the criminal world, along the way making discoveries of both a universal and personal significance.

This first novel by Steve Mosby is packed with intriguing ideas and theories, and central to many of them is the concept of text as a living entity, beings that mutate and evolve, and for which mankind is simply a means of reproduction. One can find similar scenarios in the annals of genre fiction, such as Leiber’s The Black Gondolier, but Mosby brings to his project a conceptual daring that makes the idea sound not only plausible but in fact a rather obvious development, giving us the intriguing prospect of ecological ‘terrorists’ who help the process along, while his idea on how such a thing could be put to use by the criminal fraternity is worthy of a Moriarty. Add to that a wealth of incidental invention and the end result is a perfectly credible backdrop for this grim and compelling story of times to come. Jason is the archetypal anti-hero, a good man who has become corrupted by obsession, willing to kill and put friends at risk for the sake of his worthy cause. And at back of it all there’s a painful honesty, a realisation that he himself is in some way to blame for all that has happened, that if he had said the right thing at the right time, then maybe none of it would have happened. The revelation of his guilt is a powerful part of what drives the narrative on, while Jason’s reflections on his life and society, his feelings about love and sexuality, add to the richness of the text, making us identify with him and care about what happens.

The book does have several lapses of logic, scenes in which the way the characters behave doesn’t quite add up, but they don’t detract from the overall excellence of this impressive debut novel, which brings to mind the daring and genre juggling antics of Michael Marshall before he decided to drop the Smith in exchange for a bigger audience, but written with a sensitivity and feeling for the people involved that is all Mosby’s own. Highly recommended.

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