by Peter May

‘[Lockdown] was never published. British editors at the time thought my portrayal of London under siege by the invisible enemy of HSN1 was unrealistic and could never happen – in spite of the fact that all my research showed that, really, it could……. Lockdown was consigned to a folder in my Dropbox, where it has remained. Until now.’ (Peter May, 2020, in his Foreword to the newly-published novel)

Of course, we now know it COULD. Maybe not as the author had described in fictional terms in his novel, written around 2005/2006, but it DID!

Lockdown is a crime thriller depicting London as the epicentre of a worldwide pandemic of Bird Flu. This particular virus has many forms. However, the strain depicted here is particularly lethal when spread among humans – 25% affected, of whom 80% die.

Jack MacNeil is a detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police. It is his last day with the force when he is called to a crime scene. A bag containing a child’s bones has been discovered on a building site. In a city under martial law and a dawn to dusk curfew, death is everywhere. Bodies are piling up and all but essential, authorised travel is forbidden. However, this discovery is murder, a recent and especially gruesome murder where the victim has been carefully stripped of flesh and left in a hole.

‘A group of soldiers, rifles pressed across their chests, trotted past them at the double, young boys with frightened eyes behindarmy-issue gas masks designed for a biological war in Iraq which never materialised.’

As an investigator, MacNeil has a permit to travel. He also has a supply of FluKill, an approved anti-virus drug which can combat the HSN1 infection. But he has personal problems; his marriage has broken down and his wife has custody of their son. MacNeil is also in a relationship with Amy, a wheelchair-bound forensic scientist and expert in reconstruction of faces from skulls.

‘Amy had turned out all the lights. She sat with a kitchen knife clutched tightly in her lap, watching the stairwell…. in the hour or more since she had called MacNeil, there had been not a sound, not the faintest shadow of a movement.’

When forensics demostrate that the victim is a little girl of Asian origin, Amy is given the job of building her face from the remains, which she does so successfully that she puts herself in danger from the maniacal murderer and his dedicated hit-man, Pinkie. Other people associated with the case, and with the child, are being killed, and to solve the crimes, MacNeil is forced to break the law he is sworn to uphold.

‘Pinkie enjoyed the way the shock and surprise registered in the boy’s eyes as his own blade slid neatly between his ribs.’

Despite personal tragedy, MacNeil pursues his course through the near-deserted streets of London, the damaged builings, looted shops and military checkpoints with nervous soldiers and big guns. Medical services are quite unable to cope with the scale of the epidemic. Bodies are cremated in mass burnings.

It eventually becomes clear that the man behind these events, Mr Smith, is no madman, but a cool operator with a very specific agenda. Both he and Pinkie are focussed and deady. And as MacNeil’s last shift with the Met draws to a close he is only beginning to glimpse the nature of the criminal’s plan. But can he catch Mr Smith before either Mr Smith or Pinkie catch him, or before he catches the virus?

Lockdown is a page-turner, a thriller where detection, science and art merge with horror and apparently senseless slaughter. It is a clever detective novel with believable characters and a convincing plot. In his prescient portrayal of a pandemic, May creates at once suspense, anticipation, and an atmosphere of fear and hopelessness.

I had previously read three of Peter May’s novels, The Blackhouse, Runaway and The Critic. They were enjoyable, but none stirred my imagination or my senses like Lockdown. ‘Unrealistic’ – unfortunately for our species – it is not! My wife, who is a fan of May’s writing, tells me there are many more excellent novels among his twenty or so fiction works. I may just try one or two more.

‘ “It’s Sean.” He heard her voice crack. “He’s sick, Jack!” ‘


One thought on “Lockdown

  1. Even when bird flu was around, we never went into lockdown. Although books like 1984, and we never thought any of those things would happen. Life now feels very futuristic, especially since computers seem to be more intelligent.


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