Real Monsters by Liam Brown

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Real Monsters by Liam Brown

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Danny is in the military, posted to the desert fighting 'the Monsters' who caused 9/11. Lorna his wife waits at home, but not idly, as she gradually discovers another side of the war fought on a different front. A debut author brings us a gob-smackingly intense, compelling experience. (Yes, in a great way.)
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Legend Press
ISBN: 978-1910394564

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Lorna was 12 when she was sent home from school, watched the unfurling events of 9/11 on her TV and recognised her father's office block aflame and falling. Her fight for mental survival started at that moment and the use of alcohol to quell the memories came soon after but then she meets Danny – her lifesaver. Shortly after this, they marry and Danny joins the army. He's sent to fight the monsters, the fundamentalist organisations, which destroyed Lorna's childhood. However, when what's left of his unit becomes lost in the desert without food, water or equipment, the focus changes from military victory to personal survival and those monsters are still out there…

Brit Liam Brown has done many mundane jobs; flipping burgers and balloon-selling being just two. He's in a band called the Freelance Mourners. He lives in Birmingham with his wife and two children. Although all this is important to Liam, it may not live long in the memory of the global book-buying public. To them/us he will soon be known as that bloke who wrote Real Monsters; it's that kind of novel demanding and deserving that kind of audience.

We're eavesdroppers as the story unfolds via alternating letters from Danny and Lorna to their son (poignancy in itself). Each uses a different font but even without that, we can tell these two voices apart. Danny's words are inexplicably bitter (initially that is - ooh just wait!) and written from the war zone. Whereas Lorna takes us back to the beginning, telling us of her childhood, their meeting, falling in love, how Danny turned her life around and then joined up…

This isn't a novel that's read for laughs but neither is it one on which we can turn our backs. Yes, there is a moment of humour but it's dry and violent fitting the backdrop. We smile when we hear about a soldier who develops trench foot – a fungal infection associated with wet conditions – in the middle of an arid desert but only for a little while, till we realise we are smiling. (And if you think the front is nerve-wracking, Lorna has to face the military wives without firearms!)

Indeed throughout the novel, the language is gory, brutal and unflinching from the desert side although seasoned with an eloquence that draws us further in rather than repelling us. In fact, we aren't too far in before we discover we care deeply.

Be very clear, these aren't the usual 'today I did this' letters; they reveal much in brevity. In among the insights into Danny's life on the edge of oblivion, Lorna's discovery of the anti-war factions and the problems this causes (not what you'd imagine!) there are twists and turns slowly developing into shocks and evidence aplenty that Liam can think from either side of the literary box. A cool instance of this is… No, I can't explain for fear of giving it away. You need to come to this fresh-faced so that you can be (metaphorically!) smacked in the jaw by it.

Talking of literary, among the author's shock and awe tactics there exist underlying questions as in all good allegories. Who are the real monsters and what can be done about it? Simple questions that you can probably half answer from the book blurb but Liam demonstrates vividly that the answers aren't actually easy and the outcome is scary.

Liam definitely offers us a brave ending. We may feel we're ready for it and may even believe we've guessed but just wait and see. It left me feeling mentally winded before wanting to read it all again.

(Thank you hugely Legend Press for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like more fiction about the war against fundamentalism with as much punch, we also highly recommend The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (ex-US-military) and, the aftermath portrayed in Burden of the Desert by Justin Huggler (journalist). You might also enjoy Broadcast by Liam Brown.

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Buy Real Monsters by Liam Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Real Monsters by Liam Brown at


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