Painkillers. Book Review

painPAINKILLERS by Simon Ings
Bloomsbury, p/b, 256pp, £6.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

There are some things that are rarely written about to an extent that they should be, and are even rarer in genre fiction. Topics that most of us do not have to deal with are largely ignored. Simon Ings is prepared to tackle them head-on.

This novel is set in the 1990s and has all the trappings of a violent thriller. It begins in Hong Kong. For Adam Wyatt, the city has given him good things and bad things. He met his wife Eva there. He also became addicted to a machine that produced ecstasy through pain. The girls that administered the machines were part of the corrupt underground that always infests cities, and those in the Far East worse than most. When they return to London, it is because their son, Justin, is autistic and they want the best care for him, They can no longer afford the expensive treatment that has little effect, at an institute in Japan.

Settled in England, all seems to be going well running a café. Then Jimmy Lau is murdered in Hong Kong and it is discovered that he was heavily into money laundering, a side-line Adam’s boss in Hong Kong was turning a blind eye to. His wife, Money, also living in London, wants Adam to help her sort out Jimmy’s affairs. The implied threat is that if he doesn’t something nasty will happen to his family and business. Reluctantly, he agrees. The money would be useful for Justin’s upkeep. When Money’s father-in-law dies, Adam and Money’s daughter, Zoe, go to help clear out the house. In the attic they find the prototype for the machine that Adam was addicted to in Hong Kong. Zoe thinks they can make money out of it, marketing it as a stress reliever. This box, is the only element of SF or fantasy in the novel. It is the gismo on which much of the plot hangs. Otherwise, this can be regarded as an almost contemporary thriller (it is actually set just before the turn of the century but the tropes haven’t changed much).

What Ings does well is examine the relationships around Justin. The dilemmas and the reactions of Adam, Eva and the child are well portrayed, convincing the reader of the reality of the situation. In fact, this is the most authentic part of the novel.

Despite the quality of the prose, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I felt I should have and the reasons why are hard to pin down. Perhaps it is the first person narration and I wasn’t quite convinced by Adam, or it could be that I didn’t really feel his jeopardy. It has a lot going for it, there will be many who like this book but for me there was an element missing.