Wednesday, 18 February 2009

‘The Ninth Circle’ – Alex Bell (Gollancz)


Books aren’t just there to be signed by the author; you have to read them as well. Sometimes I forget this... I went to the Gollancz multi-author signing, the other week, with every intention of being good and not buying too many books. The lure of Alex Bell’s hat proved too strong though and before I knew it I was paying for a signed copy of ‘The Ninth Circle’. Believe it or not, I have purchased books for even more ridiculous reasons in the past...
I then managed to completely forget that the book was even in the pile until last weekend when I saw it giving me a reproachful look. Feeling rather guilty, I decided to give ‘The Ninth Circle’ a go that very instant! Not only was I glad that I did, I also found myself wishing that I had picked it up sooner...

A man regains consciousness on the floor of a shabby flat, he has no idea what led to his head being stuck to the floor by his own blood and he certainly has no idea why there is an enormous pile of cash on the kitchen table. As time passes he finds that he is in Budapest and that he has abilities (going without food or sleep for days at a time, fighting with extraordinary prowess) that make the mystery of his past even more compelling. He is also beginning to experience visions and even his dreams are not safe from the burning man who is trying to tell him something. What is this message? Our hero may have discovered what his name is but there are so many more questions that need answering and time is running out...

‘The Ninth Circle’ is a clever tale full of twists and turns that drew me in before I even realised what was happening. One minute I was starting the book and the next thing I knew I was halfway through and trying to puzzle out what was going on at the same time as Gabriel (our hero). For every answer that the reader is given, Bell gives us at least two more questions and this approach keeps the suspense on a constant high as well as giving us the best possible reason to keep reading. There is a constant stream of misinformation, to go with the clues and the author should take a lot of credit for tying off all the loose ends by the time the tale comes to a close. While you may guess how it will turn out (regarding the question of Gabriel’s identity) there is still plenty to keep you hanging as the truth behind Gabriel’s visions comes to a gripping conclusion. This is the real cliff-hanger and it is worth sticking around for.

All of this is set against a Budapest that looms over the plot and adds a brooding atmosphere to a tale that is already steeped in gloom. I found myself wondering if a little too much attention was paid to the background setting at times; especially as the book itself is only two hundred and sixty four pages long. Sometimes it felt like there wasn’t much room for the story itself to breathe but, on the whole, a good balance seemed to be struck.

‘The Ninth Circle’ is all about Gabriel and his quest for the truth behind the amnesia that he is afflicted with. Bell does a very good job of showing us Gabriel’s state of mind and how it develops over the course of the book. As each little clue is solved, pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together (although sometimes they don’t fit at all and that’s where the twists are) we get to see how Gabriel copes with each development. Elements of paranoia and determination combine to paint a picture of a man under intense pressure but with reserves of strength that he is yet to discover.

‘The Ninth Circle’ is a deceptively short read that offers it’s readers more to chew on than a book twice it’s size. The eventual outcome is well worth the price of admission and offers a tantalising hint that we may not have seen the last of Gabriel after all...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

5 comments:

Zoe said...

This sounds absolutely fantastic, I'm intrigued :)

Adam Whitehead said...

That was a very impressive hat. And the book was good too :-)

alex-bell86 said...

It's all about the hat, people . . . ;-)

gav (nextread.co.uk) said...

Thanks for the review Graeme, I made it my next work book. Your right about it feeling that a fast read.

I'm 50 pages in and I'm none the wiser about what's 'really' going on but I have a feeling that I'm going to love it when I find out.

Akujiki said...

I am so angry with the printing press! This is a superb novel. However, when I got to page 170, the very climax of the story, it was NOT succeeded by page 171. Rather, pages 43 - 90 reappeared, and then it cut to page 219. I felt like it was some sort of sick joke. I really want to finish the novel! Hasn't anyone else come across this problem?