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Thriller set in Pripyat and Chernobyl – plus the author, J M Hewitt, talks location

26th April 2016

Exclusion Zone by J M Hewitt, thriller set in Pripyat and Chernobyl.

Thriller set in Chernobyl

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There are very few novels that we have found set around Pripyat and the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant  – so I was keen to read this book. Pripyat was the town established in 1970 to service the Nuclear Plant.

The book begins with the explosion of Reactor No. 4 on 26 April 1986 at Chernobyl, then in Russia. It was 40 hours later when the residents were asked to leave, but many had already suffered varying degrees of radiation poisoning by this point.

The story early on homes in on the hours after the explosion, and specifically on one family. Afia and Sissy Bello are sisters, who are caught up in the dreadful aftermath. Their Dad, working at the plant seemingly succumbs to the explosion and doesn’t come home; but Afia also disappears and it is in part the backstory to her disappearance that forms the backbone of the novel.

Move forward to 2015 and PI Alex Harvey in London is tasked with investigating multiple murders in the area around Pripyat, now in Ukraine, a very bloody and sadistic murderer is at work. He asks Elian Gould to accompany him (her family originally hails from the area), she can act as interpreter and she is on some level keen to go as she wants to explore the mystery of her family history.

The locations of London, bustling metropolis that it is, and Pripyat, desolate and dankly festering, are well evoked in the competent hands of this author. The writing is clear and smartly put together.

What didn’t really work for me so well was the structure. Most chapters are short, 2 or 3 pages long, sometimes 7, and this left me feeling that I was channel hopping through the story (at the beginning there is an index numerically listing each chapter and the start page, which isn’t really useful). Each chapter focuses on a different character, and there is time slip between 1986 and 2015, back and forth. This keeps up the pathos but as many of the chapters end on a bit of a knife edge, it can also feel frustrating, as the move between scenarios can feel too abrupt.

I also wanted to find out more about the psychological drivers of some of the characters, which I didn’t feel were really explored. What experiences in the past really spurred the characters to act in the ways they did….?

It will be interesting to see what J M Hewitt does next and where she chooses to set her next book.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Over to the author for a few words about setting…

Have you ever wondered about the places on earth where you can’t go? Maybe it’s something you’ve not really thought about. Perhaps you’d be surprised to discover there are actually quite a few in this world of ours. I decided to write a novel based on the most famous of them all – Chernobyl.

That particular place has always fascinated me. I mean, it’s in Europe, it’s close, but it’s inaccessible. Well, not totally, as Sergii and his staff at Chernobyl Tour do just that, tours of of this abandoned land, and I got some super helpful information from them.

And the more I researched the more I uncovered. There are some people who never left after the 1986 nuclear disaster; Babushkas they are called, the Russian word for Grandmother.

And my story started with this one single thought: what if terrible crimes were being committed in a place where no law enforcement will go?

And that place? Well, that’s the Exclusion Zone.

You can follow the author on Twitter and Facebook

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For more books set in UKRAINE, click here.

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