Lockdown – A city in quarantine – A murdered child – A powerful conspiracy
Lockdown is the book that was never published – well until 2020 that is. The story goes that May wrote this book in 2005 after spending months researching the H5N1 flu virus (more commonly known as Bird Flu). His publishers then refused to publish it, stating that it was an unrealistic basis for a book. London in lockdown – Pah that will never happen! Little did they know!
Fast forward 15 years and London is in Lockdown!
2020 has been a surprising year all around. And with London on lockdown, what better time to publish a book about a murder during a lockdown? This one got special treatment and went straight to paperback – these publishers know a captive audience when they see one (pun most definitely intended).
So, does it hold up to the reality we are now living? Is it realistic to base a murder in London during a lockdown?
I can tell you that it does and it is.
May himself is said to have “had chills” when he first reread the lost manuscript for Lockdown, realising how close our life had become to the setting of Lockdown.
Lockdown in real life
It is actually quite scary how much May either got right fifteen years ago or at least got pretty close. It’s almost as though he got a paper from 15 years in the future and used it for the basis of this book. Sure, the O2 arena is actually incredibly popular and successful, and not the abandoned wreck May made it out to be, although I have to say, that surprised me too – when they announced the plans for a music venue, I didn’t see it panning out and certainly didn’t’ see if being the success that it is. The idea of it being used as a hospital during a flu pandemic isn’t actually that far fetched though. The Excel in London was turned into one of the first Nightingale Hospitals in the UK, in less than two weeks.
The Prime Minister, when he got ill was taken and treated at St Thomas’ Hospital. Now, this might be where all Prime ministers are taken if they fall ill during their stay in office, but considering there are quite a few private hospitals in London and it is not common knowledge, I feel the fact that he got his right was quite surprising.
Battersea power station has only recently (bearing in mind it was decommissioned in 1975 and received its grade II classification in 1980) had its redevelopment started. As there is no obvious year on Lockdown (although possible I may have missed it) it is not that strange an idea that it could, in fact, be used for a morgue as is suggested by Peter, if the pandemic were to get as bad as things get in Lockdown.
In the foreword of Lockdown, May says:
“As I write this, I am hunkered down at home in France, forbidden to leave my house except in exceptional circumstances. A new coronavirus, Covid-19, is ravaging the world, and society as we know it is rapidly disintegration… So this seemed like the moment to open up that dusty Dropbox folder and dig out that old manuscript to share with my readers – if only to make us all realise just how much worse things could actually be.”
And you do really get from Mays writing how much worse it could be. H5N1 has a much higher mortality rate than Covid-19 and has a much higher infection rate. Thankfully, as I write this, we are beginning to open and so far no need for a temporary morgue in London. Sadly other countries have been worse hit and pop up/temporary morgues have certainly played a part.
Characters in Lockdown
Choy, the murdered girl is a sorry soul, from the very beginning of the prologue you know she is the driving force of this story. But you never really know much about her, even by the end of the book. Choy is a good choice of a victim for May, it is hard to read about her death, but it is emotive; a young girl who started life in a terrible situation and a driving force for MacNeil, a victim who tugs at his heartstrings and spurs him on to find her killer and bring them to justice, before his time runs out.
How will his time run out? Well this is quite clever on Mays part, he knew he couldn’t debilitate MacNeil in any real way, or the story would fall short, so giving him the flu was a no-no. Instead, he finds a way to add a ticking clock aspect without it being too cliched or by using the disease in the way that you’d think.
McNeil is your classic cop. Middle-aged, good at his job, but not so good at keeping his family together. Driven and determined but damaged like all well-seasoned cops are.
When reading Lockdown, I couldn’t help but think that the characters had all appeared together in a previous book. You know the feeling; you pick up a book in a charity shop or at a train station/airport when away on business and start reading, only to discover the this is part of a series and you feel compelled to go back and read the rest? Well, I felt a bit like that. But not in a bad way. In the way that I wished there were more stories featuring McNeil and Amy. Their backstories are rich and interesting, I’d love to know more about them.
This story is full of twists and turns as any good conspiracy story should be. The characters are full and believable and the bad guys really are bad. It even has the conspiracy theory aspect which, if you’ve lived through the 2020 Lockdown and pandemic, will be all too familiar. I’m pleased to say that Bill Gates does not feature once in this conspiracy though.
This book is written with depth to the story and characters who you really do want to survive.
I did really enjoy this book. May says that it will help you to see how bad a pandemic really could, and he’s right. Lockdown really is a lesson in how bad it really could get. A virulent disease which not only has a very high R rate but is also a lot more deadly than the current virus we are tackling. Reading this book during an actual lockdown was somewhat cathartic and made me feel quite thankful. A bit like the catharsis of reading a “misery book” or watching one of those “based on a true story” films about heartache and misery. Helped that it was a great read, fast-paced and with a mystery and conspiracy you want to get to the bottom of. I’d recommend a read, whether during a lockdown or not, this is a good book!