This is not my kind of book, that’s not a judgement on its quality, just a statement about my personal reading tastes. I read it to get a feel for its style and drift so that I could pass some impressions on. I did not finish Spiral and so my intention is only to give potential readers a flavour of the novel in case this might be something interests you. I think many readers will love it and I expect Spiral to be a big seller, it’s certainly well written and engaging, I enjoyed the sections of the book in the real world, I just didn’t want to engage with the fantasy or the game playing element. Caveat delivered, here are some thoughts that I hope are still useful to the prospective reader.

Some novels defy easy classification and that’s certainly true of Spiral by Australian author Iain Ryan. To read the book is to play the game, it’s a mystery unlike any other I’ve read, it’s a fantasy adventure for grownups and a pastiche/homage to the early interactive books that came along several decades ago.

Erma is a researcher, it’s clear she’s not mild mannered and certainly not shy, but she has hidden depths, talents and a darkness that she doesn’t acknowledge, or does Erma even realise she has a dark side? That she knows how to fight and how to kill. There’s more than one world in play, more than one image of self in this tale.

2004. Dr Erma Bridges is working on her own research these days for a new book, a study of YA fiction from the 1980s, interactive adventure stories. Erma is freed up from her teaching responsibilities at the university and she’s in Gijon in Spain when an email comes through notifying her of a disciplinary hearing questioning her conduct. She has to drop everything and return to Brisbane. She looks in the mirror on the plane and sees… herself, her own face, (bear with). The authorities at the university were going to have the disciplinary hearing without her. She thinks it’s Jenny Wasserman, her assistant, behind all this. Stirring up trouble again because she’s been turned down for a raise for the transcribing work she does for Erma, she says Erma doesn’t treat her right. As Erma arrives three smug looking bods from admin/personnel are settling down to their task. They’ve drawn up a list of witnesses they want to interview but they won’t specify the actual allegation against Erma. Jenny isn’t present but it must be her. To be fair Chandler, Erma’s boss, puts a halt to proceedings, tells HR they can build a case if they have one and then come back with their questions. The meeting breaks up. Erma realises Jenny must have accused her of sleeping with her students given the names on the list. This really could be trouble.

Erma decides to track down the witnesses and discover who’s been talking to Jenny. Not that she was sleeping with her students but she had relationships with people connected to the department and it’s complicated. She finds Dylan first, he says he never spoke to Jenny about them and hasn’t seen her in a long time. She threatens him to keep quiet before moving on to Jenny’s sister Gloria but not even she has seen Jenny. Everyone Erma talks to thinks Jenny’s lost it, that she’s weird and can’t help making enemies. Unable to find Jenny Erma goes back to her hotel, she falls asleep and the barbarian arrives – Sero, wearing cobbled together armour with a necklace of children’s teeth and a map in his possession. There are four orcs, one by one Sero slaughters them. Then Erma is awoken by someone in her room, she moves and shots are fired, she rolls onto the floor, the shots keep coming. The assailant, is Jenny, she stands over her beating her, eventually reloading the emptied gun. Mercifully she shoots herself, Erma wakes in the hospital.

Ten months later she is resting in Krabi, Thailand. It reminds her of the Choose Your Own Adventure Book: Inside UFO 54-40. You have been abducted by aliens, the choices you make will determine whether you survive, make it to the paradise planet, Ultima, or fail. Erma has found her own paradise here but she can’t stay. She spent a week in ICU and months in recovery, she needs to know why Jenny did this. Her colleague Kanika calls, boxes of Jenny’s notes and research papers have arrived at the university marked for Erma. She needs to return to find out what is behind the nightmare.

Zaffre, Hardback, ISBN 9781838774189, 24/12/20.