This was for me a very unusual and clever novel, a real page turner.
The story begins with the residents of St Piran, a fictional Cornish village, who collectively remember and celebrate an event that occurred fifty years ago.
At that time a naked young man was washed up on the back of a whale and deposited on the beach. He was quickly rescued by the villagers. From the retired village doctor and the beachcomber, to the priest's flirtatious wife and the romantic novelist, they take this lost soul into their midst.
But what the villagers don't know is that Joe Haak is a city analyst who has fled London, fearing he may - inadvertently - have caused a global financial collapse. Joe is so talented on the share trading floor, that he has managed to invent Cassie, a computer programme which will predict the rise and fall of the market. By combing through every piece of financial journalism, every scrap of knowledge of every last supply chain, and every piece of economic activity in recorded history, Cassie can anticipate market movements, and forecast share prices. This of course should be invaluable to his company. However it is after being led by Cassie into a spectacularly disastrous trade, that a terrified Joe flees to the remote Cornish fishing village.
Then, just as he begins to settle down and find some peace, Cassie starts predicting the end of the world. A global flu pandemic will wreak havoc. Oil supplies will be cut off and Law and order will break down, millions will die and civilisation will be back in the Stone Age within a week.
Joe advises the villagers to save themselves and seal the village off from the rest of the world before it is too late.
The narrative weaves between the past and present, London and Cornwall and this helps build up the tension and suspense as Cassie’s prediction proves to be accurate.
As far fetched as the story might seem, this concept is actually rooted in reality which is rather scary! Ironmonger consulted Diamond, the scientist whose book Collapse (2005) examined the rapid decline of civilisations such as that on Easter Island.
Based on this information, John Ironmonger’s description of the intricate mesh of supply networks on which we all rely is really thought provoking. Just think about the implications of a world-wide outbreak of severe flu, with billions of people incapacitated and unable to work and the impact that would have as power stations closed and produce wasn’t harvested or delivered and petrol stations had to close and supermarkets ran out of essentials etc. Imagine god forfend that the Gry didn’t come for weeks!!!
The book however doesn’t focus on the gory details of such an event but upon the more heartwarming side of human nature - self-sacrifice for the good of many as opposed to the savage fight for survival of the fittest. As such, it’s a gentle, uplifting book with warm engaging characters who demonstrate the inherent goodness and generosity of spirit in us all.
This is a book which will stay with me for a long time.