Review by Ben Macnair
Publisher: Harper Collins October 2021
ISBN: 978-0008346997 PB
James Chilton is at a low point in his life. He is solid, dependable, a good bloke, but the recent breakdown of his relationship, being sacked in less than favourable conditions from a job he loved means that he sees no point in continuing. He has sent a text message, a suicide note to the 158 contacts on his phone. He is not asking for sympathy, or for anyone to try to change his mind, but just stating the fact. As he boards the sleeper train to Edinburgh, a favourite journey he made time after time with his father, he knows that it is the last train ticket he will buy, the last time he will enjoy the hospitality of people.
However, his decision also has a massive effect on his friends and family. Of the 158 contacts, some are barely acquaintances, some will not remember his face, his voice, where they knew him from. Some, though, like his mother Jean and step-father, his estranged sister Sally, his ex-girlfriend, Michaela, now living a new life with a new man in Germany, Karl a lifelong friend who had to fire him, his housemate, Steffi there will be deep and meaningful repercussions.
The book hops about from time zone to time zone, between characters and how their lives intersect each other. We find James on the train, his phone on Airplane mode, not knowing the reaction his text has caused, not realising how much he means to the few people who are desperately trying to stop him, to find him, to talk him around from making one final, fatal mistake.
Although the premise of the novel is a bleak one, there is also much humour, humanity and positivity in the book. Even the fleeting connection he makes with Gina on the train is well-drawn, although it has no effect, for she has made a decision of her own, which is revealed in the last few pages of the book.
As his family crack the clues to where he might be, and Steffi sets about putting out calls for information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, any social network she can think of, there is a real sense of jeopardy.
There are seemingly no bad characters in the book, all of them are concerned for James’s welfare and safety, and the ending of the book does seem a bit too contrived for the happy ending that is delivered.