|Shaun Hutson has a well deserved reputation for grossing out
his readers. Legions of admiring fans all around the world await each new novel with bated
breath. Can he possibly get any more revolting than he was last time? Surely not...
Graves begins with a detailed and loving description of a mutilated corpse.
The body is decomposing in the bath of a hotel room somewhere in Africa. The mutilator
himself is on the run from the security forces and must, reluctantly, leave his
latest toy behind. His pursuers are only minutes away. However he does manage to escape
the forces arrayed against him and he flies off in a small aeroplane. It is the start of a
journey that will eventually take him to England.
The UK is having problems coping with a huge influx of African refugees. They settle
uneasily in the poorer areas of many large cities. Many don't speak English. Assimilation
is hard. And here, as in the countries from which they fled, there are people who hate
them simply for the colour of their skin and their foreign attitudes. Nick Pearson is a
journalist investigating this racial strife. He is himself of African descent though he
was born and brought up in England. He is currently in the Hertfordshire town of Darworth
which is experiencing a resurgence of racially motivated violence. It's all fairly routine
stuff -- fire bombings, vandalism and the like. But Nick starts to hear about a mysterious
man who has recently started to try and organise the African immigrants to fight back and
soon things start to become ugly. People are killed, children disappear.
Nick finds a descrated graveyard. Corpses have been exhumed and arranged in obscene
poses around the headstones. The authorities quickly have the bodies re-buried, but they
don't stay buried for long. Soon they are gone from their graves again and this time they
are nowhere to be found. All the signs suggest that the corpses fought their own way out
of the graves. And they were probably responsible for the murder of the vicar whose
mutilated body was found in a nearby house.
Nick hears a name that send chills down his spine.Victor Mowende is a powerful figure
in African politics. Nick last came across him in Sierra Leone where he was reporting on a
civil war. The coup that Victor attempted had failed and he was on the run. Now it seems
he has ended up here in Darworth and his new power base is the community of African
immigrants and refugees. Nick finds the thought frightening -- Victor Mowende is also a
powerful witch doctor, a practioner of a form of voodoo. Probably he was behind the
vandalism in the graveyard. Perhaps the authorities, and the skinhead thugs who are the
vanguard of the forces arranged against the Africans, will soon find themselves fighting
both the living and the dead.
For once Shaun Hutson has tried to make his novel deal with themes that are designed to
make the reader think rather more deeply about things than usual. The racial tensions and
prejudices that motivate his characters are a very real and very worrying aspect of modern
society. Hutson has certainly not stinted on his trademark gross-out scenes, and he never
misses an opportunity to try and make the reader throw up, but nevertheless he is, in his
own twisted way, trying to write about something important. He deserves credit for that. Unmarked
Graves marks the start of his maturity as a novelist. I will watch his
future career with interest.