The Greenhills are hiding something and Sam’s determined to find out what it is. As his investigation unfolds, he realizes the lies reach further than he ever imagined – is there anyone he can trust?
Uncovering the horror is one thing …escaping is another.
After very much enjoying the first two instalments of Stripes’ Red Eye series, I was really looking forward to reading the third one, Simon Cheshire’s Flesh and Blood. It was a fun story, well fun in a gory, scary kind of way, but one I enjoyed a lot. Set in what seems to be a small, typical suburban community under the smoke of London, Flesh and Blood tells the tale of seventeen-year-old Sam, who discovers that instead of moving to suburban paradise, his family has moved straight into the cul-de-sac from hell.
The story is told by Sam and I really enjoyed the narrative form Cheshire chose to let him tell his tale in. Sam has ambitions to be a journalist, which is what gets him into trouble in the first place, and they reflect in the way he tells his story. Told in the past tense, looking back from the ending of the story, Sam sometimes sounds as if he is writing a personal essay for English class and at other times his style is a bit more mature and polished. He also editorialises, commenting on his actions and planting clues as to what is coming up. I really enjoyed the way Cheshire built up the narration and I kept wondering who Sam was writing this piece for, the revelation of which was a great twist.
As a protagonist Sam is sympathetic. He’s a good kid, good grades, well-behaved, mostly suffering the usual teenage woes with his parents until they move to Hadlington and everything changes. There is the usual new kid at school stress, compounded by the discovery of a murder victim right in front of the school gates on his first day. But there is also some of the fun of starting anew, such as discovering new friends. He quickly becomes friends with Liam and Jo and I loved the dynamics of this threesome. The scene where Liam introduces Sam to Jo and they discover their mutual nerdiness was adorable. Yet however important Liam and Jo and Emma Greenhill are, none of them becomes as vivid and well-rounded as Sam is.
The horror elements of Flesh and Blood go beyond the gore factor; the setup of the town with the estate at the periphery and the constant stressing of the fact that there is gang activity there make Elton Gardens seem somewhat ominous. Yet the pervasive hold the Greenhills have on the community is far scarier as it created a sense of paranoia and claustrophobia, as it seems as if everyone is watching Sam and reporting back to the Greenhills. All of these elements fuel Sam’s own considerable self-doubt, no one doubts Sam’s theory about the Greenhills as much as Sam himself does. Watching Sam investigate the matter and the slow build up of clues and evidence was fascinating. The inexorableness of the investigation’s results and the rising panic that suffuse the latter part of the book were well done, though the ending broke the tension rather brusquely. While the ending was very well executed, I actually didn’t like how the book concluded. It felt as if it came to a crashing halt, since the last third or so of the book drives the tension constantly higher, so that when the resolution appears it feels rather abrupt.
Despite my quibbles with its ending, I enjoyed Simon Cheshire’s Flesh and Blood. If you like your horror gory and tense and you heroes earnest and straightforward, then you should definitely pick this up. Note however that the book carries a warning about its suitability for younger YA readers and in this case I think that’s a valid warning, so parents might want to read along with their younger children.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Thanks to Red Eye, as a taster, I also have a small extract from the book for you. I hope it whets your appetite!
Flesh and Blood
The only way out of this room, apart from going back the way we had come, was down yet more steps, wide ones, disappearing at a steep angle into near-darkness. Standing at the edge, with Jo and Liam right behind me, I could see that the steps ended in another coded door, this one made of reinforced metal.
“Down there,” I said.
“Must be a cellar,” said Liam. “D’you see, it’s one level down from where we came in.”
“There must be something secret in there, it’s got another keypad,” I said. Our voices sounded weirdly deadened by the low ceiling, and by the cupboards behind us.
Keeping close together, we descended to the lower level. This second door was a dull grey, cold to the touch. The large grip it had, in place of a handle, and the seam in the wall to one side of it, showed that it slid aside rather than opened inwards. The smell down here was different, faintly queasy, like the smell you get inside a brand-new fridge.
Liam got to work exactly as before. Two minutes later, we heard the clank of a bolt pulling back. The door glided across easily, on well-oiled tracks. Beyond it was pitch dark.
I reached out and turned on the overhead lighting. It blinked into life, sharp and cool, faintly blue, and bright enough to make us shield our eyes for a few moments.
The room was starkly tiled in white, both floor and walls. There were a couple of metal trolleys, like small tables on wheels, and a couple of tall, deep glass-fronted cabinets.
The soles of our boots squeaked gently against the clean, shiny tiles. Nervously we walked over to one of the cabinets. Arranged on shelves inside were an array of tools. There were long, stick-like objects with curling hooks at the end; some metallic trays filled with little clips; two items that looked like drills, but which were fitted with small circular discs instead of drill bits. As I looked closer, I could see that the discs were sharply serrated, like the cutting edges of a saw.
“Aren’t those…” Liam stumbled over his words, “surgical instruments?”
“Yes, I think so,” I breathed. “Caroline’s a GP, and Byron’s a trained surgeon. Maybe they collect these things.”
“Nice collection,” whispered Liam. “No wonder they keep it locked up.”
Jo took a step back. Suddenly, she gasped. “Oh God, look under there!”
She pointed to one of the trolleys. On its lower shelf were a number of large glass jars, with chunky vacuum-sealed lids, the modern equivalent of those biological preservation jars you see in museums.
Jo retreated across the room. She clutched at the sleeve of Liam’s coat. My heart drumming, I crouched down to see into the jars.