Fellside by M R Carey

Posted On 6 April 2016

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fellsideFellside is my second Carey novel and coming on the heels of the very well received The Girl with All the Gifts I can say I had very high expectations.  Not always easy to follow up such a successful book but I think Carey manages to deliver a completely different style of book, a unique story and a compelling read, well written and powerful.

This is a difficult book to review because of the desire to not give away spoilers.  Similar to TGWatG really!  So, what I can go with is what we’ve already been given on the synopsis.

We know the story is set in Fellside, a high security prison and we know that Jess is one of the inmates.  Therefore probably safe to assume that Jess Moulson is a convict and given that the synopsis states that Jess could be spending the rest of her life in Fellside presumably she’s somebody with a serious crime behind her.  Now, Jess certainly has a story to tell and Carey tells that story in an addictive way that takes on the spirit of a ghost story with a difference.

Jess is in prison for the murder of a young boy called Alex Beech and it seems that Alex is now visiting Jess.  He has his own agenda and in engaging Jess and seeking her help he has given her a new purpose.

That is all.  I’m not going to go into the plot any further for this particular book.  Which isn’t to say I can’t discuss other things of course.

I have to say immediately that Carey is an excellent writer.  This is quite a grim story without a doubt and you could be forgiven for thinking that might start to wear on you after a while but instead the author has this way of dropping ever so subtle hints, little crumbs of something different to come and it in fact becomes absolutely fascinating and compelling.

The setting is really well drawn.  Not difficult to imagine a prison setting I suppose but this is a violent corrupt place with characters that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark street never mind share a cell or a very confined space with.  All these characters are tough cookies, they all know the prison hierarchy, even the guards know their place and the threats, blackmail and outright violence and the sense of menace and fear are very well depicted.

In terms of characters.  Well, there’s nobody soft and fluffy to hold onto here.  There is a deal of sadness and even a feeling that not all is completely fair in the world.  We have the hardened criminals and you probably won’t like the majority of them (which isn’t a surprise in some respects I suppose) but then the staff and medical team are also real pieces of work who in most cases I disliked even more than the inmates.  Jess herself has led a troubled past and one that doesn’t make for light reading and it takes a little while to start to develop a feel for her but as the story progresses you can’t help but become attached to her which in turn makes you fear for her as she becomes more and more involved in the darker aspects of prison life.

Criticisms.  Nothing really major although I have to admit that I found certain aspects relating to prison life a little difficult to get into at first.  The details around Grace for example – one of the inmates and the ‘boss’ of G block – we learnt quite a bit about her set up and drug running which felt a bit of a struggle at certain points but in the end I think it was necessary to the overall story.  To be fair I would say that the second half of the book has a much more ‘edge of the seat’ type feel.  Everything comes together and I really felt scared at that point for Jess who seemed to be in such a lot of danger.

Overall I thought this was an excellent read, gripping, tense and surprising.  Also surprising in terms of the ghost story element itself which isn’t quite what it originally seems – a real twist in the tale in that respect.  On top of this there are some really great court scenes where I couldn’t put the book down!

If you go into this expecting a ghost story that is less a haunting and more a mystery to be solved you can’t really go far wrong.  A tense story that had me pretty much glued to the page.  Did I enjoy this as much as TGWatG – I don’t think that is really a question that I can answer as the two stories are so completely different.  I can say this was a very good read that certainly reinforces for me the need to pick up more work by this author.  A story of sadness, guilt and possible redemption.

I received a copy of Fellside courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

This review first appeared at The Speculative Herald.