X THE UNKNOWN
by Shaun Hutson
PUBLISHER: Hammer Books
RELEASE DATE: 5 July 2012
FORMAT: Paperback, 368 pages
In a quiet field in Buckinghamshire, a huge crack has appeared in the earth’s surface. And people are dying. Incinerated beyond recognition. At the same time, hospitals have noticed an increase in catastrophic deformities in foetuses, and cancer levels soaring. Dr Adam Royston, a scientist working at the nearby military base, thinks he knows what it is; a creature as old as the earth that slumbers for centuries, then wakes to feed on the energy and radiation produced by humans. But if he’s right, and they can’t find a way to destroy the creature roaming the countryside, then it’s not just Buckinghamshire that could be in danger, but the whole world. (Amazon)
The story starts with the army on manoeuvres in Buckinghamshire, England when things start to go awry. A large rift appears in the training ground and it’s not long before one of the soldiers gets struck down by a terrifying entity coming from the rift which leaves him covered in third degree burns and riddled with cancer. His death is quite grisly and it is at this point that we are introduced to Dr Adam Royston, an American scientist who’s brought in to investigate who or what caused this to happen. While he carries out the investigation people continue to die and a number of pregnant woman are horrified to learn that their unborn babies are deformed and covered in cancerous tumours.
Hutson introduces a multitude of characters including a number of soldiers from the nearby army base, Clare the mother of two who has breast cancer, Nikki who is pregnant, and several researchers at the army base, including Adam Royston. The story doesn’t start to heat up until a young boy gets attacked by the entity after being dared to go out after dark by a group of bullies from his school. The threat of the entity does not seem to be taken seriously until the young boy dies despite the number of soldiers already dead or dying by that point in the story.
It soon turns into a race against time as the rift continues to grow and the entity kills or maims more and more people. The plucky American, Royston, soon discovers what the entity is and fears not just for the fate of the village, but for the whole of humanity. Unfortunately, for the story the summary gives away 9o% of the plot and with it a lot of the mystery, but I will leave you with a little teaser by not disclosing how Royston manages to save the day.
I think that Hutson focused too heavily on turning this original 1950’s movie into a novel and fails to create an atmosphere suitable for this medium or this genre. Much of the plot is given away with dialogue rather than creating tension as the entity hunts its next ‘meal’. The scenes when people were attacked by the entity lacked any real suspense or ‘scariness’. Hutson wrapped up the plot, action and the novel in the final few page leaving me feeling rather dissatisfied and not at all scared. As someone who has a tendency to get scared fairly easily, I didn’t find this very scary at all and was left thinking that the radiation munching entity was a bit more a ‘Blob‘ rather than ‘The Thing‘.
X THE UNKNOWN was bit more of a murder mystery for me than pure horror as I didn’t find it particularly scary even though the descriptions of some of the deaths were quite gruesome. The most grisly of these was in fact a dream sequence rather than the action itself. Hutson failed to create real tension and with so many characters it was easy to forget who was who or what role they played in the plot. It also meant that with so many characters they weren’t fully developed and ended up being one dimensional, even the lead character, Adam Royston. Hutson had some elements of pure horror and scariness but just slightly missed the mark leaving a plot that was quite predictable and just a tiny bit dull.
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