Death is a Welcome Guest is a sequel of sorts to A Lovely Way to Burn, each forming the first and second parts of a Plague trilogy, in that the action of each book takes place against a backdrop of a terrible, virulent infection known as the Sweats, busy eradicating the global population. And the Sweats are, of course, crucial to the action in that the action arises from the situation, but just as, say, John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids or even Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead series focus in on the individual circumstances of survivors, so again here. The Sweats are backdrop; Welsh’s Plague books, so far, have other fish to fry. In point of fact, Death is a Welcome Guest has more in common with Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army than it does your more typical army fare.
Our hero, of sorts, this time around is Magnus McFall, a comedian on the cusp of his big break, playing the O2 in a supporting role. A rough night, however (in which he attempts to rescue a damsel in distress) finds him locked up in Pentonville. As the virus kicks in and the guards gradually stop feeding the inmates, desperate times calling for desperate measures, Magnus pairs up with a tough old lag (who may or may not be a nonce, for those who enjoy their prison lingo) called Jeb Soames and the two of them do what needs to be done to escape. Magnus’ plan is to make it to the Orkneys where his mammy and his sister live – but it’s a fair old journey and along the way, Magnus and Jeb become involved in a post Plague religious community (at which point it most closely resembles a weird fusion of the Wyndham and the Hall). Of course all is not as it seems in the community they gradually become a part of and before you know it there’s a killer on the loose and various people are being hung, stabbed, shot at and poisoned.
Now. These days Welsh is sort of known as a crime writer. When she started out, however, she was more of a literary writer. The construction of Death is a Welcome Guest betrays those literary roots. This is a more typically literary crime novel that crime readers may normally expect. At the same time, Welsh is, these days, more of a crime writer than a literary writer both when it comes to the construction of her sentences and when it comes to the construction of her characters. By which, we mean to say that some of her sentences are more functional, and some of her characters are types. Such is the nature of crime fiction. What’s more, the identity of the murderer was pretty obvious to this reader but that could be just because I do read a fair bit of this kind of thing. Saying all of this, though, Welsh is a good writer, she can craft a good sentence and her characters, at times, do have the ability to surprise.
Taken alongside A Lovely Way to Burn, Death is a Welcome Guest is enough to make this reader want to complete the cycle and read the third book when it lands – and the climax of this book suggests that book 3 might well involve an adventure between the leads of each of the two previous books…
Any Cop?: Not the most thrilling thriller you’ll ever read, but if you’re a fan of Welsh, or indeed a fan of a certain kind of dystopian English fiction (she really is very similar to Wyndham), this might pass a few enjoyable hours.