Author David Hutchinson
Europe in Autumn
This is the first book in the quartet. It is, if taken at face value, a futuristic espionage thriller of which reads like the love child of Deighton, le Carré and possibly Phillip K Dick…and Franz Kafka.
Europe, following a series of economic and political disasters is literally fracturing into smaller and smaller countries until even Greek Style Polities or City States are seceding from the tiny countries that seceded from the EU and the resulting nation states. A main driver to this chaos was a catastrophic Xian Flu pandemic that killed millions of Europeans.
Our hero is Rudi. He is a cook in a Kraków restaurant who, somehow, becomes embroiled in a new way of life as a ‘postman’ … of sorts. The Les Coureurs des Bois is a covert, people smuggling, just plain smuggling, almost Secret Service like version of the Royal Mail who move goods and people over the ever increasingly complex borders of this new Europe.
Recruited by the shadowy Les Coureurs des Bois, Rudi is schooled – more literally ‘old schooled’ – in the traditional espionage practises redolent of the Cold War but when one of his more complex training missions – involving ‘The Line’ a sovereign nation that consists in its entirety as a trans-Europe railway line – goes horribly wrong ( it involves a severed head in a locker) Rudi begins to learn that life as part of the Les Coureurs des Bois isn’t as simple as he had hoped.
Rudi’s life begins to get very, very complicated indeed as he starts to detect a sub-text to the more overt series of plots, conspiracies and counter plots that involve the Les Coureurs des Bois,.
Something quite weird is going on.
Make no mistake this book, which was nominated for basically every Science Fiction prize on the planet, is not a straightforward easy read. You better pay attention. The author carefully lays down the rugs which he will eventually pull out from under you and you had better note where the rugs were and when they got pulled because while taking it on its own terms it is a cracking book the author is merely prepping the canvas and applying an undercoat.
We’ve only just started.
Europe at Midnight.
It’s all change.
Oh, we are still in Europe but that’s about it; Unpredictable is the word of the day.
Two new brand-new narrators appear, and we start off in a strange country— one of the new Polities perhaps? The country is called The Campus
The campus is in chaos – there has been a Coup apparently and Rupert of Hentzau (Prisoner of Zenda?) is ‘the worst Professor of Intelligence the Campus had ever had.’ But since he is part of the coup replacing an oppressive ‘Board’ that left mass graves and the results of grim genetic experimentation as it legacy the New Board is at least an improvement. But the more he finds out the more Rupert learns that he now must deal with the conspiracy surrounding the failed genetic experiments.
Meanwhile, in England, Jim – a middle ranking officer of MI5 – is tasked to investigate the attempted murder of a man on a public bus. This reasonably simple job becomes incredibly more complex when Jim finds that he is dealing with a problem rooted in a parallel reality.
And so, we get to the Maps.
Jim is finally briefed: Two hundred years ago, a landowning family in based somewhere near Nottingham somehow created an English county to the west of London. They called it ‘Ernshire’. No one knows how they did it or when but the Government has good reason to believe that Ernshire did exist, and that it is still there. Where ever ‘there’ is.
The family who created the county also created a map that showed the pathways into and out of Ernshire. The map has disappeared. So, no one knows where Ernshire is or whether its still there at all.
It’s Jim’s job to find it.
Back in The Campus Rupert has also now had a parallel revelation.
So, these two characters and their two stories and perspectives eventually, inevitably, come together.
Europe in Autumn was a cracking book. But this is even better, and it takes massive risks with its readers by abandoning Rudi and exploring the new world with new characters. But it works brilliantly.
And yes…Rudi does make an appearance.
Europe in Winter
The author, whose vision of a fractured Europe is started to look like Nostradamus by now, pulls out the stops for this book.
Ernshire is now revealed as The Community: not just an English county but a ‘mirror Europe’ with a small ‘c’ conservative government that feels like a 1950’s New Zealand but run by Orwell.
‘The Line’ is the connection to The Community. Think of China’s new ‘Silk Road Initiative’ and the fact that trains can now go – without stop or border controls – from China to the heart of Europe (iPhones rather than silk now). The Line runs right across Europe now but in a reflection of our times an isolationist force is working on both sides to maintain the old segregation.
An attack is made on The Line and – given the political mess – the main security services of the remaining major countries task Les Coureurs des Bois to clean up the mess
So, Rudi is back. Older and a wee bit wiser and he leads the way. He is joined by Rupert of Hentzau and in aptly fractured fashion the narratives of the previous books come together.
There is a lot going on here so once again you better pay attention. But the themes get bigger and bigger and so too does the landscapes they live and work in. So too do the risks they run.
Europe at dawn
The book opens with a middle-class couple renovating an old narrow boat.
Of course, it does.
They received some financial assistance to achieve their dream of living and working on the canals and in return? Well so what is they must pick up an occasional passenger and ferry them to parts of the canal system which they don’t recognise and where the GPS won’t work?
Then there’s poor Alice, a junior cultural attaché at the Scottish Embassy in Estonia. Newly-independent Scotland’s diplomatic service is a chaotic tyranny, her workmates and bosses range from useless to malevolent. She is in a relationship with a man so objectionable that it’s a mystery she hasn’t killed him never mind kicked him out.
Then one day a couple of men turn up claiming to have the stolen skull of a Scottish saint.
Benno, a teenager and a refugee from a country that no longer exists. He lives on a Greek Island that is a holding camp for refugees from Africa and Asia. The UN and the countries of Southern Europe reluctantly provide food and shelter – shipping containers – while ensuring that the refuges hopes reaching Europe remains impossible (in 2014 when the author began Brexit wasn’t a thing … so give it a while and this will happen) .
Then Benno is offered a way off the Island.
This book is a bit tricky. But as the final book it has considerable loose ends to tie up so it was always going to be rather less than linear in its storytelling. When Rudi makes his first appearance, he is the young Rudi of book one, still a chef taking the occasional job as a coureur. He starts off looking to track down the sale of a stolen skull of a Scottish saint which is being offered for sale.
Yep, the same skull that many years later will cause Alice so much trouble.
A few hundred pages later and the older, cane carrying Rudi of Europe in Winter appears. He is retired from the Coureurs des Bois and running the restaurant in Krakow where he used to work, while Alice has escaped to a hermit-like existence in rural Finland where she makes a meagre living as an artist.
Oh and Rupert is back too.
Benno as well.
The disintegration of contemporary Europe, worsened by fully introducing the Community, continues. The Community – who it turns out deliberately introduced the Xian Flu into Europe and also destroyed its own pocket Universe ‘The Campus’ which it was using as a nuclear, biological and genetic Weapons research location is maintaining an uneasy peace with Europe, but the situation is volatile.
And then Heathrow Airport is transported from Europe into the Community.
All of it. People, buildings, planes.
So, it seems that there is another very powerful unknown player in Europe.
Rudi is called – Smiley like – out of his retirement and he and Alice and Rupert and the The Coureurs des Bois go to work once again to identify this new threat to the stability of Europe and Community.
Hutchinson has weaved his way through a very complex story and done so brilliantly and this is a fitting ending to a profoundly impressive series.
And yes there is a final revelation.