Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson

Solaris, 2015, 304 p.

 Europe at Midnight cover

The Campus is an enclosed society which has just undergone a revolution but any attempts to escape its confines fail on the many lethal obstacles preventing it. Its latest head of intelligence jokingly calls himself Rupert of Hentzau and has set about instituting a fair justice system. Meanwhile, in a world recognisably ours (if in the future,) a man is stabbed on a late-night bus and claims asylum.

Back in the Campus “Rupert” misjudges a situation and provokes a counter-revolution. Araminta Delahunty, who had kayaked into his life one day, provides his outlet. She is from our world, seeking her brother who had managed to travel out of it, and shows “Rupert” the way to England. A connection to the stabbed man is soon established.

This is the set-up to Hutchinson’s tangled tale of parallel worlds, a development of the scenario he laid out in Europe in Autumn with its Europe splintered into a patchwork of variously sized polities (with borders of different degrees of rigidity) where the number of entries to the Eurovision Song Contest can exceed 600 – and the voting takes three days. At one point in the book “Rupert” (I can’t remember Hutchinson revealing his character’s “real” name) muses, “I had the impression that the English would have quite liked to be in Europe so long as they were running it.” Well, yes.

Unlike in Europe in Autumn in this book we also spend some time in The Community, the parallel world constructed in the maps produced by the Whitton-Whyte family where the county of Ernshire and its chief town Stanhurst are connected to a Ukipper’s wet dream of a greater England stretching from Iberia to the area Moscow occupies in ours – and which is much more menacing in this novel than its predecessor.

Again Hutchinson has managed to produce a Cold War type spy story within a Science Fiction scenario but this novel has more of the whiff of SF about it than did Europe in Autumn. The book has literary quality too; his characters are eminently believable and the action sequences well handled.

Notwithstanding this, the novel’s structure is perhaps a little askew. It may have been a slight mistake to begin with the scenes in the Campus as these were very well delivered and contained the book’s most intriguing character, Araminta – user of those very non-Science Fictional words muppet, berk and cockwomble – but for plot reasons we no longer return there after “Rupert” leaves it. To be fair the other settings are as convincing but throughout I found myself pining for the Campus.

Overall it’s excellent fare though.

Pedant’s corner:- poison chalice (poisoned chalice,) presently (to mean “soon” – this read oddly to me as Scots use presently to mean “at the moment”,) two full stops at one sentence end (this may have been meant as an ellipsis but three dots is surely the minimum for that,) the Board were starting (the Board was starting?) the team were using (the team was using,) the team are working (is working,) math (maths,) [these past two appeared in dialogue so are excusable; just.] Each sub-section within the chapters of the book was prefaced by a number: one of these numbers appeared at the very bottom of a left hand page; which looked most odd.

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