Are we alone in the universe, and do we really want to find out?
Some time ago I read Neil Spring’s debut novel, ‘Ghost Hunters’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve followed the progress of the author on social media and awaited the release of his second novel, ‘The Watchers’ for some months. After all this time eagerly awaiting The Watchers I bought it on the day of release and sat down to savour this anticipated feast of literature.
On the first page is an error. Nevertheless, I was determined not to let a hair in my starter ruin the entire meal.
I wanted to love this book, I really did. I desperately wanted to love the language, fall for the characters, enjoy the experience as much as I had enjoyed ‘Ghost Hunters’. I gave it every chance to leave me spellbound, but it just failed to completely impress me. It isn’t a bad book, it just falls a little short of my expectations.
Robert Wilding is an unusual protagonist. His parents were killed in a freak accident many years ago and he was forced to live with his grandfather in a remote cottage on a remote coastal hillside in a remote village in remotest Wales. Sadly, Robert’s memories of his grandfather are cold and unloving. The grandfather of his memories is an almost fanatical religious nut, bent on scaring anyone that will listen about unworldly beings invading their little village, and taking his religious frustrations out on poor young Robert.
Robert has issues. He’s anxious all the time and he has some OCD problems that he is aware of, but isn’t trying to do much about. *Trigger warning, by the way, to anyone that is particularly sensitive to the delicate world living with OCD; you’re not alone, stay strong.
He has a friend, and a boss, and a mentor, and he comes across a decidedly suspicious and exotic sounding Air Force general. There’s also a tenuous connection to characters from ‘Ghost Hunters’ which I was proud to have spotted but none of the characters are particularly lovable. With various buddies in tow Robert is tasked to investigate his sleepy old village and various sightings of UFOs that have plagued the area. What he discovers can, at best, be described as far fetched, if any of it is true, but I can’t help but get the feeling that there is a suggestion that none of it is true but that theme is never fully explored or explained. It kind of turns out ok in the end, only that it really really doesn’t but that bit is quickly brushed over.
My main concern for the book is this: it’s supposed to be set in the late 70s but it didn’t feel like it. The language didn’t feel right for the 70s, the descriptions of places and things didn’t remind me of the 70s I’ve seen on TV. The dialogue didn’t make me think of two people talking in the 70s; it all just felt too modern.
That’s not to say that The Watchers is a bad book, it was pretty good, it just fell short of my high expectations. I enjoyed reading it but I felt all the way through it that it was missing something, which for such a long novel is a shame. Maybe everything I wanted from the novel was lost in the editing, except the spelling and grammar mistakes that a reasonable proof-reader should have picked up. (I’m available if any publishing house is listening).
Read this book if you get chance, but there are other books that I recommend you read first.
* * O O O – 2 out of 5. Maybe 2.5 at a push.
The Watchers by Neil Spring is available now in paperback, published by Quercus.