Publication Date – 12 June 2018
Prepare to have your fear of the dark reignited in this suspenseful and creative new novel from one of the best horror/thriller writers in the business, which takes the reader on one hell of an adventure.
The world is full of many secrets, cover-ups and mysteries, all of which have been hidden from the public by the academic elite. At least, that’s what Nolan Moore would have you believe. Nolan is an amateur archaeologist and former screenwriter whose web series, The Anomaly Files, attempts to uncover weird things from history. Derided by the experts, The Anomaly Files has a devoted following of conspiracy theorists which Nolan hopes to turn into a television deal, and his latest episode might just be the break that he needs.
Following clues left by an explorer in 1909, Nolan and his production team travel to the Grand Canyon, hoping to find a hidden cave that may contain evidence of an ancient civilisation unrecorded in history. For once, Nolan appears to be right, as the team manage to find the opening to a cave high up in a remote part of the canyon. Exploring, they find a cave system filled with mysterious items and artefacts unlike anything ever discovered in this area before. Their elation at this unique archaeological breakthrough is quickly quashed when they find themselves trapped within the cave, cut off from the outside world.
As their lights start to fade and their supplies begin to dwindle, Nolan and the team hold out hope for a rescue. However, it soon becomes clear that something is very wrong. Something alive is entombed with them and there is far more to this cave than they could have ever imagined. As the team try to survive an increasingly desperate situation, Nolan must uncover the secrets of the structure they find themselves trapped in before they all die in darkness.
Michael Rutger is actually a pseudonym for bestselling author Michael Marshall, who has also written as Michael Marshall Smith. Rutger has been writing since 1994 and is known for his intriguing science fiction novels, which often have a strong horror/thriller element to them. The author is probably best known for his creepy 2002 release The Straw Men, which spawned two sequels, but his bibliography is littered with a number of other powerful and terrifying novels. Fans of Rutger’s previous work will no doubt enjoy the quick reference to The Straw Men contained within The Anomaly, and it will be interesting to see if Rutger goes back to that series in the future. I chose to listen to The Anomaly on audiobook. The audiobook is narrated by Brandon Williams, and, at just under 10 hours in length, it doesn’t take too long to get to the heart of this great story.
One of the most enjoyable things about The Anomaly is the tense atmosphere that Rutger instils with his skilled writing and terrifying creative elements. The reader really gets a sense of the desperation and despair slowly creeping up on the characters as the story progresses, even if they attempt to keep a brave face with each other. With a limited and dwindling number of lights being held by the characters, Rutger is able to create quite a few opportunities for his protagonists to be forced to crawl around in the dark in this hostile environment. The oppressive darkness takes a real shape during the book and at times has a near physical sense to it as the characters deal with it in different ways. I felt that the story contained a well-balanced combination of action, exploration, archaeological and scientific exposition, despair-filled periods of rest, several gruesome and traumatic scenes and a surprising amount of humour from the characters. However, even as the characters crack jokes at each other, you can feel the darkness surrounding them and you are constantly wondering what is going to happen next.
Special mention needs to go to Rutger’s creation of The Anomaly Files webcast show that was a major feature of the book’s early plot and the main plot reason that this group of characters are in this situation. The author spends significant time describing the creation and filming process behind this show, and it’s intriguing how similar it sounds to some real-life conspiracy theory shows or broadcasts. This accurate portrayal of a web show adds a lot of realism to the story, especially as it becomes clear that the characters are in over their heads and are different from the usual group of leading experts or military types you’d usually find in this type of novel.
I am not going to go into too much detail about the mystery of the cave as I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Trying to figure out what exactly is behind the events affecting the protagonists is a big part of the experience, and too many details could potentially ruin the book’s impact. Suffice to say, this central mystery is a very unique and creative idea from Rutger that is made up of a variety of different elements. It was very intriguing to see the full extent of this central idea be revealed to the protagonists as the story progresses and readers will be astounded by what Rutger has come up with. This mystery is made up of an interesting mixture of aspects from a number of different genres, and the author combines them together into one very intriguing conclusion with some massive implications. I really enjoyed this exploration into the weird, and some of the things that harassed the protagonists as a result of the central mystery element worked very well with the tense nature of the story.
One of the defining features of The Anomaly is the strong focus on the characters entering the cave. The readers grow to really care for these characters, and quite a lot of time is spent exploring their past and showing them as people who don’t deserve to be trapped in this terrible situation. Most of the book’s focus is on the protagonist and narrator Nolan Moore, who is the cynical host of The Anomaly Files. Nolan is a great central protagonist to have tell this story, as he is an observant character who has witty and at times piercing insights into his fellow characters while also providing the reader with his detailed examinations of the locations around him. Despite coming off as a bit arrogant at the start of the book, the character’s brutal honesty about himself, as well as the exploration of certain parts of his past, does a lot to humanise him to the reader and make him into a character you can really care about. This humanisation is furthered by his attempts to save his team and the extreme guilt that he feels for having brought his team into this place.
While Nolan is a great central character, Rutger also spends a significant amount of time focusing on the side characters, who in some ways are just as important as Nolan to the book’s overall story. My absolute favourite of these characters had to be The Anomaly Files British producer, Ken, who spends the entire time quipping, swearing and generally making the most sarcastic comments he can, no matter how dire the situation gets. Most of the book’s humour comes from Ken’s dialogue, as he makes it clear he’ll be joking and insulting the world right up till his death. While this sort of character seems an odd choice for a thriller/horror novel, I felt his sarcastic attitude and comments fit the tense tone perfectly as he encapsulates a lot of feelings a normal person would have in that situation. Ken is also one of those characters you can’t help but love and who you really, really hope will survive all the terrible stuff happening around them.
Molly the assistant producer and Pierre the cameraman also get a significant amount of focus in the book and are really good side characters. Molly goes from being the most calm and collected character at the start of the book to the person most affected by the darkness and atmosphere of the cave. Watching her try and work through her issues is quite inspiring, and there is even a descent exploration of the root of these deeper issues. Not much of Pierre’s backstory is shown; however, the reader gets a good sense of his character throughout the book, and Nolan’s changing opinion and growing admiration for him mirrors the reader’s thoughts on him. Other main characters include the ambitious reporter, Gemma, and Feather, the new age hippy who acts as a representative of the show’s sponsor. Both of these characters get some decent exploration in the book, as well as some great scenes that make them stand out in their own ways.
I really enjoyed the audiobook version of The Anomaly. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in finding out more about this compelling story. I felt that having this book read out to me helped expand on the story’s tension and dark atmosphere, and it was a fantastic way to enjoy this amazing story. Brandon Williams’s narration of the audiobook is excellent, and his voices for the characters are a highlight of this format. Williams does a great job capturing the book’s point-of-view character, Nolan, very well, and the audience gets a real sense of the character’s cynical nature and inner thoughts through the terrific narration. I absolutely loved the voice that Williams created for Ken, as he gives the character a very distinctive English accent that fits Ken’s sarcastic personality perfectly. The accent is just wonderful and actually reminded me a lot of Matt Ryan’s voice for John Constantine in some of the modern television shows, especially when he swears (‘bollocks’, for example, is used multiple times). The rest of the voices that Williams creates work well for the other characters and allow the readers to distinguish between them, although the less said about the ‘South African’ accent for minor character Dylan, the better.
With a powerfully intense atmosphere, The Anomaly is an exceptional horror/thriller from bestselling author Michael Rutger. This is an amazing book, and readers will have a lot of fun trying to unravel the book’s central mystery, while desperately hoping their favourite characters survive this chilling adventure. Addictive and terrifying in equal measures, this is an outstanding book that comes highly recommended for anyone looking for a weird, thrilling or horror based read.