‘In the search for truth, it matters not whether we find it. It matters only that we continue to seek.’
An amateur archaeologist on the hunt for ancient treasures in the Grand Canyon stumbles on a secret that was never meant to be found in an extraordinary thriller that blends black humour, science fiction and graphic horror in a glorious and gripping melee.
Michael Rutger, a Californian screenwriter whose work has been optioned by major Hollywood studios, has a ball in this fast-paced, magical bag-of-tricks debut novel which turns action adventure into a visual, verbal and visceral blockbuster.
Brimming with menace and suspense, and starring a cast of characters so brilliantly imagined and so individually charismatic that each becomes a vital cog in the well-oiled, fast-flowing plot, The Anomaly is fun, scary and wickedly entertaining in equal measures.
When failed screenwriter and amateur archaeologist Nolan Moore and his team of misfits arrive in Arizona from Los Angeles on a mission to find a legendary cave of ‘wonders’ hidden inside the sheer wall of the Grand Canyon, even he is not totally convinced they will find anything.
Nolan fronts a low-key YouTube show called The Anomaly Files, which specialises in unsolved mysteries, but this search has been financed by a shadowy organisation called the Palinhelm Foundation which has sent along their representative – a ‘mousy, neo-hippie type’ called Feather.
Even more exciting for Nolan and his producer Ken – a paunchy, vodka-soaked middle-aged man with ‘a face like an old pug’ – is that the expedition is being filmed and is their big chance to clinch a real TV show deal.
And no one is more surprised than Nolan when they actually discover the cave… an extraordinary archaeological coup that could make their fame and fortune. But already Nolan senses ‘a note of caution spiralling up from the deep back brain’ and soon events take a dark turn.
The team becomes trapped inside the cave and their adventure quickly descends into a desperate fight for survival. And just as rescue seems a distant possibility, matters get even worse… as the cave begins to reveal its true secrets.
The Anomaly is a remarkable first novel, and Rutger proves to be a masterful storyteller as this tautly written, straight-talking adventure thriller moves from its almost light-hearted and playful first chapters into something deep, dark and utterly terrifying.
Nolan and his team of misfits – particularly the shared gallows humour with his wonderfully world-weary and cynical sidekick Ken – are one of the central delights of this brilliant page-turner which bristles with evil, white-knuckle tension and an all-pervasive sense of claustrophobia.
At times addictively bizarre, and at others displaying an unexpected emotional depth, this is an unmissable adventure from first to last.
(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)