The Truants by Lee Markham – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Can a book really be about vampires without ever actually mentioning them by name? Lee Markham’s slender novel puts that idea to the test and comes up with a positive response.
The creatures at the centre of the tale are the last of their bloodsucking kind and yet, as far as I can remember, their undead species is never mentioned. They’ve been roaming the planet for centuries, but have grown weary of their existence – and each other.
Once upon a time they were in love, but at the start of the story, the female decides to end it all by exposing herself to sunlight, spontaneously combusting in the process. Later, the male attempts to do the same, but something goes wrong and, thanks to a bizarre chain of events, his consciousness is spread through various residents of a poverty-stricken council estate.
“Feral, disenfranchised youths”
What ensues is an intriguing tale that manages to mix familiar horror tropes with insights into the state of some of Britain’s poorest places today, populated by almost feral, disenfranchised youths with no hope or prospects for the future.
In effect, Markham has created two stories and successfully melds them together. But the novel isn’t without its problems, and they mostly concern style.
While one part of the tale is written in a straightforward manner, the other adopts a truncated, slightly irritating tone. Markham seems to have taken a dislike to commas in this part, opting instead for ridiculously short sentences that merely grate on the reader and don’t flow.
I’m assuming it’s meant to mirror speech patterns, but it’s merely a distraction from what’s happening on the page.
It’s also difficult to know how the author wants his readers to feel about his characters. Are we supposed to sympathise with any of them? We can certainly dislike an awful lot of them, particularly the drug-addled parents of toddler Peter, who comes to a sticky end before being reborn in a twist of fate.
There’s also an oddly upbeat ending depicted in a rather ill-fitting epilogue. Perhaps after all the death and destruction, Markham felt that readers needed a little bit of hope. Or maybe he thought of an exciting sequel, and is setting us up for it.
If this is the start of a series, please Mr Markham, adopt a less annoying, more free-flowing prose style next time because your work is far better without any literary quirks and tricks.
‘The Truants’ by Lee Markham is published by Duckworth Overlook, £8.99 paperback