Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Unmarked Graves Unmarked Graves
by Shaun Hutson
Orbit Books

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

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...

Unmarked 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.

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