Blackout by Marc Elsberg and Marshall Yarbrough (translator)

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Blackout by Marc Elsberg and Marshall Yarbrough (translator)

Category: Thrillers
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Europe is without electricity for days, due to some kind of attack. It's not brilliantly written, but even post-Brexit it's utterly relevant.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 350 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Black Swan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781784161897

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Electricity. Unless you're living in some kind of miracle world, you're using it to read this, and it is patently one of those things we take for granted. And we'd all be going to hell in a handcart if it failed. Traffic lights wouldn't guide us safely through junctions; mobile phone and laptop charge would be a valued commodity; those cow-milking robotic get-ups wouldn't operate – man and beast would literally all be tits up. So imagine a continent without it, all of a sudden – generating plants can't get back on, power networks can't deliver, and hundreds of millions suffer in a winter-time with nothing like as many utilities as they'd prefer…

This thriller comes to us with the air of being an overnight success in Europe. Not quite so – the author released four novels under his real name before this maiden outing for a pseudonym, and it was released in German markets in 2012. Still, it had the command, and narrative acuity perhaps, to be released through the continent (Poland, etc) under the one-word title Blackout. I'm reminded of something that serves as a cinematic allegory here, namely the 1990s works of Wolfgang Petersen, and his easy, direct, timely but good thriller/action films. We all know what happened there, but as none of us really expect a Das Boot, will this book be more Outbreak or just a Troy?

It's an unlikely allegory to bring up, perhaps, but one that serves. Yes, there are copious people that have flashed and gone as regards writers of this kind of material – the late Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, I suppose Dan Brown – but I want my books in this genre to be cinematic, yet heartfelt – blockbusters with humanity. Here I certainly got the budget, as it were, as we swoop from country to country, from city office where frenetic press conferences get cancelled as things go from bad to worse, to remote locations where people are trying to mug others of their Jerry cans. I can't say the same as regards characters, however easily the many that we're introduced to in disparate ways get fed into their rightful places in the drama. Something about the fact that the writing doesn't really convey character, and only begins to describe people when it lets its guard slip down, meant I felt too remote from the people in these pages. Some maintained a status just above that of irritant.

But the next best thing is to have an issue, a problem and a drama to get your teeth into, and here we definitely get that. This is a book that suitably hits the nail on the head with its timely issue – we're talking more and more about power security, power independence – and with the UK carefully asking China to run what bits of our generation industry that aren't already French- and German-owned, it's a book that is certainly relevant for us. But it is still an exceedingly clunky one. A female journalist gets where she has no right to be – not once but copious times. The plot is hammered home as if via Powerpoint, and too often we get to see a debate in mediocre dialogue where people discuss the issues, the investigation and the fall-out, where we should be able to see it for ourselves in the presentation of real life (in the instance of the cows, we have it both ways – via character, and via flip chart).

As much, then, as I'd like to commend this book for its relevance, I can't be completely positive about the storytelling. It felt increasingly woolly as it went along – which is a shame. It's also an oddity, for I've read that the Polish and German versions are 800 pages long. I have no idea what font size they use, for my proof managed it in 430pp, and that felt more than enough – and is still in medium type. I'll round off my cinematic allegory by saying this is definitely one for home viewing, rather than paying anything for on the big screen. Marc Elsberg has since written two more high concept thrillers that have shifted buckets, but I for one found too much leaving me unsatisfied here.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

For another look at a place gone to hell in a handcart, with thriller overtones, we can suggest The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker.

Buy Blackout by Marc Elsberg and Marshall Yarbrough (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Blackout by Marc Elsberg and Marshall Yarbrough (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Blackout by Marc Elsberg and Marshall Yarbrough (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Blackout by Marc Elsberg and Marshall Yarbrough (translator) at Amazon.com.


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