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by Boris Starling
Dutton, March 2007
384 pages
ISBN: 0525949968

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you want top-notch world-building, you can't really beat UK author Boris Starling (witness his sprawling Russian epic VODKA). His new book VISIBILITY is set in 1950s London where both the aftermath of the war and those infamous pea-souper fogs hang over the city.

Herbert Smith is a stiff upper-lip loner who fought in the army during World War II, then joined MI5. After an unfortunate incident with a famous defector, he ends up being shunted into the police force. He isn't made particularly welcome by his new colleagues at Scotland Yard, but he's a tenacious sort of bloke.

So when a young scientist is found dead in one of the lakes in Hyde Park, Herbert has to battle the choking fog and spies from Britain, the US and the Soviet Union as he tries to uncover the secret that the dead man, Max Stensness, claimed would change the world.

Accept that Starling will describe everything to you in sometimes excessive detail, and you'll get along just fine with him! He's a relaxed and chatty storyteller who's better on atmosphere (the fog scenes feel horribly real) than he is on pacing the book does have a tendency to plod a bit in the middle.

But he also knows when to cut back on the chat. I can almost guarantee that the ending is one to polarise readers. You'll either be chilled by the shock revelation that comes more or less out of leftfield, or want to heave the book at a convenient wall. The book's afterword will have you running to Google and wondering about what you've just read.

The main reason for reading Starling is that he's a natural storyteller. There are some neat enough character cameos, including Herbert's mother. But some of the dialogue sounds a bit modern. And the author appears to have some tiresome straight man preconceptions about gay sex.

The American edition of the book reads like it's had the now sadly usual attack of the trans-Atlantic spellchecker, and odd expressions appear to have been tweaked I doubt very much you'd have found trash cans in 1950s England.

But if you want a good dose of escapism and if you've enjoyed Robert Harris's 'what if' outings, you'll find plenty to mull over in VISIBILITY.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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