Gripping, hilarious, disturbing. The story of a psychologically unstable individual.
The story Underneath follows a disturbed man named Hugh with a love for squirrels and garlic flavouring. He is antisocial, violent and a complete and utter sociopath with no regard for those around him. In the past he has made attempts to take part in society with regular office jobs and participating in clubs, but it is never long before the cracks in his mask begin to show and those around him see the terrifying truth of what lies underneath. So when he sets his eyes on a beautiful girl on the train, who knows what disaster could ensue?
Meanwhile two police officers Robert and Clare spend their days patrolling and sorting out petty crime, it is only a matter of time before their paths cross with Hugh. The question is, who will come out on top?
I was totally hooked by Underneath from the very first page! Cargill managed to balance the line between sinister, entertaining and humorous very well. The first scene features Hugh walking around a park and his thought processes were so bizarre and frank that I was thrown, and from that moment on I had to keep reading. I was drawn in once again by the strong narrative voice which was a mixture of cynicism, humour and insight. It could be argued that Underneath dips slightly into satire at points with its comments on society and the way it pokes fun at its characters.
There may not be any super fancy sentence structures or massive words but for this sort of novella it is not needed. The writing pace is snappy and there were some brilliant descriptions, especially the ones of food (seriously, THEY MADE ME HUNGRYYYYY) and the imagery.
I did feel that some sentences were awkwardly phrased and could have been improved. A few sections became repetitive at times, for instance there was one big paragraph where every sentence began with the word ‘he’ which could have been enhanced by using some different synonyms, restructuring the sentences so they varied a little more or just leaving some ‘he’s’ out, but these kinds of issues were in the minority as most of the prose flowed smoothly! Although it may seem like I took a while to finish Underneath, this was simply because of the format (I don’t have a Kindle so I use my PC) but when I did get the opportunity to read it I didn’t want to stop because I was so immersed in the story, I finished it in three sessions.
The plot was great; there may not be any immediate action at the start of the story but there is definitely enough to reel you in, small incidents occur that make the reader curious about the mysterious main character Hugh and I loved how the further you got through the novella the more subtly serious the incidents got until they had escalated to dangerous proportions. Switching between Hugh and the two police officers perspectives was a clever idea and broke up the story well preventing the narrative from becoming repetitive. I thought it was a fun idea the way the author wrote the story so that the two groups just kept missing each other, sometimes by a matter of minutes without either party having a clue. I love it when storylines collide like that! For some readers the plot could be considered flimsy as it isn’t that complex, but I feel it works and the real reason to read this book lies with the fascinating characters, so I didn’t find this to be an issue.
I also loved how realistic the plot felt, I can imagine two police officers searching for a psychologically challenged individual out there right now and I think the little tidbits of social commentary on the UK police force really added to this. The comments on sexism and the misconception of race being linked to higher and lower crime rates were thoughtful without going overboard.
Hugh’s character is by far the most compelling aspect of this story. It would have been easy to just do a big info dump at the beginning explaining all his weird traits but Cargill is smart enough to make the reader work for it, slowly adding multiple layers. For instance, I loved his weird habit of picking up useless objects like some plastic straws, then half an hour later realising how useless they were, chucking them over his shoulder and carrying on, it was a great way of portraying how quickly his mood could change. We are never told exactly what is wrong with Hugh, he’s definitely a sociopath but there are some other factors like post-traumatic stress in there too and I liked the fact that we were never told his exact issue, it leaves the interpretation up to the reader and makes him more of an enigma.
The two police officers Clare and Robert were great; Robert’s supposed inability to go without food or tea for longer than an hour was hilarious and took the police doughnut stereotype to a whole new level, and I loved that Clare one of the only females in the story was the best in her police fitness training class and often shown to be in more control than some of the male officers (you go gurrrrrrl). The banter between the two of them was a lot of fun. Even some of the minor characters were hilarious.
The only critique I really have is that all of the characters had the exact same sense of humour, the mother of a druggy teen, the police officers and the sociopath while feeling like separate characters laughed and spouted the same cynical and crude type jokes as all the others, and this made them feel a little less well rounded.
I would recommend this book to anyone 16+ who likes crude humour (although I’m not a big fan usually but I still really like Cargill’s work), trying to work out the logic of bizarre and disturbed characters and those who enjoy thrillers. This is a great story to pick up for a quick, enjoyable read. :)
*Please note: This was originally reviewed on http://beckysblogs.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/underneath-by-michael-cargill-review-45/ and was offered to me in exchange for an author interview, book giveaway and an honest review.*
(reviewed 12 months after purchase)