I found this to be an extraordinary book considering it is a debut novel. It functions on a couple of levels: as a crime thriller with a deeply delicious twist and as a chilling indictment of how far our dependence on technology can intrude in an all-encompassing manner upon our lives. But what is so clever is how the book offers the pros and the cons, making it hard in some respects to come down firmly on one side or the other. How could you object to the eradication of crime?

In many dystopian/futuristic novels the landscape is stylised and, in a sense, one step removed from our immediate realities. Not so with Proximity, it’s all completely relatable and all the more chilling for it. It pays homage to the ever-changing nature of technology and reminded me of a line from Ian McEwan’s recent Machines Like Me – ‘Our bright new toys began to rust before we could get them home, and life went on much as before.’ Only life doesn’t quite go on as before in this book. It possibly belongs more to the speculative fiction genre and may even become as prophetic as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale albeit with a different dynamic.

The real problem I have in reviewing it is NOT to give anything away. One of the highlights for me was that I came to the book cold, knowing nothing of the author. The prologue gave little away, a subtle clue maybe to the flavour of the story, but then Chapter One hits you with it full on and I think my eyes and my mouth were open wide. But you’re probably thinking that it’s no good me enthusing over something without qualifying that enthusiasm to some degree.

Okay. It’s a crime thriller and it is very thrilling. What renders it original and ingenious is the background of embedded technology called ‘iMe’ (how perfect is that?!), which hitherto has led to an eradication of crime. Of course, no technology can be completely infallible and an aspect is compromised, making it possible for a crime to be committed. The two police personnel have to return to old methods of policing and detection to solve this crime. That’s it in a nutshell and it is so frustrating because there’s so much I’d love to share.

It’s a multi-narrative between Detective inspector Clive Lussac, Detective Constable Zoe Jordan and the perpetrator. The dynamic of the relationship between the two police personnel is well done looking at age and experience and their personal interactions with technology. You like both of them and want them desperately to solve the case. The other characters? I suspected every single one of them at one point or another! I chased up and down many garden paths. Most are without redemption until we reach the latter stages of the book when things become clearer and we can start to forgive our nasty, suspicious minds!

The writing hurtles along like a runaway train and you can barely pause for breath. It’s economic writing; there’s no waffle or padding, it’s all direct and relevant. Even the full stops have meaning! (Nah, that’s just me kidding!) Because I suspected everyone including the person who really ‘dunnit’ , it wasn’t such a surprise. Sometime I think because I’ve read a lot of thrillers I’m kinda wise to the possibilities if that makes sense? For someone who may be new the genre, oh my! It’s explosive. But what really struck me was how clever and tight the writing and the plotting are.

Right, I’ve said enough here. Why read this when you could be reading the book? It’s a no-brainer. But be quick because the book might just end up reading you.

Gill Chedgey 5/5

Proximity by Jem Tugwell
Serpentine Books 9781916022300 pbk Jun 2019