The Bothy is a confident debut novel, exciting and fast paced, an exhilarating read. It is also a very subtle exploration of grief, betrayal, love and loyalty, a thriller with real depth. The Bothy can be brutal, gruesome even, but there are moments of real tenderness too. Thomas has a mastery of his material, a tight hold on an edgy, unpredictable plot. This story could have spiralled into horror or farce if not well marshalled. The Bothy is a fascinating drama about a small group of people trapped in a pub on the moors as winter takes hold, it’s a dark tale, a deliciously black comedy. It is quintessentially British, infused with the best of cinema, stage and book – think Sexy Beast and Harold Pinter. The enclosed, claustrophobic atmosphere of the novel is heightened by the dialogue that often leaves as much unsaid as said, we get to read between the lines. The ambiguity surrounding the characters, their past as much as the present, creates a tension, you never know how someone will react in any situation but it’s unlikely to be good. As everyone is lying, to a greater or lesser extent, the more troubling question is who might actually be psychotic? Life at The Bothy is always balanced on a razor’s edge. Heavily influenced by the best of British this is still a highly original novel, a quick stylish read, the subtleties creep up on you but make no mistake they are there. Reading this novel is a lot of fun, fans of the dark thriller, the claustrophobic drama will love The Bothy.

Tom has no choice but to run, since his girlfriend’s family want to kill him; probably slowly, probably painfully. The Conways blame Tom for Stephanie’s death, he blames himself too, but he isn’t ready to be a willing sacrifice to their grief. So, he’s decided to skip the funeral and get out of Leeds, even taking the radical step of leaving Yorkshire. Tom has a mate, Gary, his boss at the snooker club, and he knows a man who can put Tom up until it all blows over. The family is bound to see reason in the end, a couple of months at the most, right? Just work for Frank at The Bothy, a pub on the Moors (the middle of nowhere), keep your head down, mind your own business, do as you’re told – how bad can it be? Let’s just say even in Tom’s situation he should think twice about staying at The Bothy. Bothy is a highland term for a basic shelter, that’s what Tom needs, a haven, a bolthole. Any port in a storm, right? Wrong…

Gary drives Tom to The Bothy, the owner Frank is disgusted it’s in Lancashire, his belt reads:

“English by birth, Yorkshire by the grace of God.”

The Bothy is bleak, so is the weather, but the isolation should mean that the Conways can’t reach him. Tom is greeted in the pub to be greeted by Ken, who won’t serve him what he wants and two guys, Tucker and Braudy, who scrounge drinks with menaces. Then there’s Frank, washed out but dangerous, the boys in the bar are his crew. They don’t like Tom showing up, they know he’s hiding something and it’s not the bullshit he’s spouting about being on the run from the police.

So far so ordinary, but things are about to get weird, nasty, reckless. Tom’s first job is digging three holes on the moors, roughly 6’x3’x4’ deep. Why is explained that night when Wayne and his crew turn up. Everyone is curious about Tom, there’s a bounty on his head and any one of these guys would sell him for a packet of fags. Then there’s Cora, Frank’s girl since his wife left suddenly for destinations unknown. It’s all about to kick off…

Shovels, frost bite, guns, gangs, and cracked pipes all feature in this clever ensemble piece. The moorland pub at the dead of winter, hinting at horror, is a cracking setting. Tom begins to realise that it’s out of the frying pan into the fire! He will need all the guile and strength he can muster, and one or two friends, if he is to survive The Bothy.

Paul Burke 4/4

The Bothy by Trevor Mark Thomas
Salt 9781784631604 pbk Feb 2019