When John Cole decides to leave his life behind, taking a long drive across the country to visit his brother, he doesn’t count on his journey being interrupted by a week that will alter his entire existence. Stopping the car when he begins to feel sick, a house at the top of a hill grabs his attention. While he stands outside staring at the doorway, a young girl appears and shouts his name. Although he is certain she doesn’t know him, he is disoriented and follows her inside.
He soon discovers that he is not the intended visitor, and that the people in the house were actually waiting for somebody called Jon Coules. But by the time he realises he has already spent an evening with them, drank their wine, ate from their table, and taken a nap in their spare bed. John’s nervous nature prevents him from telling the truth.
Over the following week, he is immersed into the lives of Hester, Claire, Eve, Alex, Walker, and Elijah. At first unsure of who these strangers are, he later learns that they were all patients at a home for people with mental illness. When one of them was forced to leave, the rest decided to join, living together in Hester’s house. When John arrives, there is a strange equilibrium in the group, interrupted only by the disturbing letters that Alex keeps receiving through the post.
For a debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood is an extremely confident work. Sarah Perry presents a very eerie and mysterious story in which the reader is often unsure of their position, and, for the most part, she manages to do this while maintaining intrigue and suspense. At times, such as a scene at the beach when Alex is blamed for injuries to a child, the writing is absolutely superb. There is a real skill in withholding so much information, yet telling the reader enough to keep them immersed in the action.
That said, the novel doesn’t wholly deliver. Not all of the questions are answered and towards the final third, once we learn who is sending Alex’s unwanted letters, this wonderfully established situation begins to fall a little flat. The answers have less impact than the questions. Although one big shock comes towards the very end, it doesn’t relate to what hooks you at the start and feels like an attempt to rescue a conclusion that has gone awry.
Any Cop?: Perry’s debut shows promise. A writer who can drag the reader in so effectively is likely to have a very successful career. It’s just a shame that a great premise doesn’t hit the heights that it should.