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Red Hail

by Jamie Killen

Rating: *****

In 1960, the residents of a US border town, Galina, where nothing much happens out of the ordinary, are subject to a hailstorm. But this hailstorm is out of the ordinary, great chunks of ice the colour of blood rain from the sky, streaming through the dust and dirt roads. Following the red hail, inhabitants of the town begin to exhibit strange behaviour. The majority of the town become steadily affected by these peculiar and disturbing symptoms. Paranoia runs amok and the residents turn on one another. Fast forward sixty years, Dr Colin Ayres, has nearly finished his research on the plagues in Galina and is concluding that they were probably due to mass hysteria. However, when his partner, Alonzo, who is descended from a Galina resident, begins to show the same symptoms as those of sixty years previously, Colin cannot ignore that there might be more to this….

I thought this book was really, really good. The narrative had an immediate confidence and strength which was entirely justified. The beginning plunges you straight into the action and the two characters that we first meet, Esperanza (‘Anza’) Kearney and Dove McNally are excellently drawn. They both have a real sense of identity and personality along with the town of Galina itself; the heat, dust and air of hopelessness adds to the growing atmosphere of unease and sense of threat. It was a very good, geographic choice gifting the book a visual, cinematic quality which reminded me strongly of early Stephen King.

The chapters flip-flop between 1960 and 2020. Ms Killen’s writing was imbued with just enough retrospective and modernity; I really felt that the 1960s chapters had a sepia, otherworldly quality whereas the present-day ones were sharper and tinged with steel. It worked very well as you were given little nuggets of information that the characters did not possess across the decades, enabling the reader to place a few pieces in the supernatural jigsaw puzzle but not so many that it spoiled your enjoyment or the ending. It did concern me that the thrust of the book was so enjoyable that the conclusion may have fallen short; it didn’t for me and I was pleased that it was not ridiculously far-fetched.

Aside from the main plot of the red hail and its consequences, there are a number of side narratives. There were a couple of twists in these ‘offshoots’, which were very well done, sympathetically handled and gave you a little extra focus away from the plagues yet dovetailed quite neatly at the same time.

Strangely, large elements of the story are not dissimilar to the times in which we find ourselves with Covid-19. These relatable parallels were oddly comforting yet quite eerie and amplified both my reading and reaction to the novel.

A very engrossing, intelligent and highly recommended read.

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