- Book: Halfway
- Location: Wales
- Author: Beverley Jones
This has been the #TFBookClub choice for November/December 2018
South Wales: Evidence of ancient occupation is etched all across the country, the long-abandoned first and the almost-echo of tramping feet, attempts at conquest defeated by the stubborn landscape and the gleefully untamed people with their sullen, savage ways……
And not much has changed in the 21st Century. The snow is closing in on this landscape, just a couple of days before Christmas, with that echoey, dampening feel of a snowfall, flurrying around the characters (these untamed people with their sullen, savage ways) as they plough their way through the inhospitable setting of South Wales, from Aberystwyth to Caerau via the B249 (which actually seems to be a road in Germany, but no matter…).
Now, it has to be said, that most of the characters are pretty objectionable, and the scenes of violent murder and torture (yes, certainly the violence is graphic at times) are hard to read. But the tamping of the environment through the echoing snow means the horrific scenes (which include elderly folk and a dog) and a load of swearing, are manageable. This is fiction. The characters are given individual names but are referred to more in terms of their monikers, to wit “The Law”, “The Hitchhiker” etc – this is an age old alienation technique used by Berthold Brecht in the early 20th Century, who didn’t want the audience of his work to identify with the characters; he wanted them to be purely receptive to his message through the storyline and not get involved in any emotional way. So, I didn’t warm to any of the characters, and I suspect that was deliberate.
The story mainly takes place on a single day, 22 December, 2007.
There is a horrific murder of elderly Mr and Mrs Lewis at Ridgeback Farm and police officer Lissa, who appears under chapters titled “The Law“, is determined to make her mark. She is the lady police heroine of her own drama, part Clarice Starling, part battling star of her own theatrical imagination. Billy Fisker and Riley Finn are soon identified as the “perps” of this heinous and blood spattered crime.
The story is decently put together. “The Hitchhiker” (called Lee) bags a lift from the district nurse when the snow comes down. They retreat to a desolate and run down pub – “Y Seren” (Welsh for The Star), at a place called Halfway – where there is another nurse looking after an elderly man (“The Old Man“). The old man, it transpires, has a very chequered history. In the defunct bar area is another, younger man, who grudgingly allows the district nurse and the hitchhiker to shelter. He is clearly, however, not the erstwhile resident publican….
Nurse Ratched and Lisbeth Salander are clearly role models for some of the characters, adding a sharpness to the storyline that is laden with, and reliant upon, images of winter, cold, darkness and a snowbound terrain. It is a very readable thriller, with smooth and easy to read prose.