The Blue Ridge Project by Neil Rochford is a beguiling mix of crime thriller and sci-fi. I found myself enthralled from the very first page and the break neck pace didn’t let up until the last.
Rochford’s success lies in the way he shrouds his story in mystery, leaving his readers compelled to read on in order to find out what might happen next. The story is based in Beacon City which is controlled by the rich and very sordid Hamilton family. From the onset, the mysterious and strangely deserted Regent Hotel seems to be at the centre of much of the action but we don’t find out to what extent until the very end.
Likewise, Rochford throws lots of characters at us in the beginning, almost playing with us as they jockey for centre stage before being discarded and creating yet another layer of mystery. Finally two protagonists emerge from the crowd, in the form of homicide detective, Andrea Nox and freelance investigative journalist, Robert Duncan.
Rochford further demonstrates his hold over both his writing skills and his readers by employing an extremely complex structure. The novel opens with a prologue which is actually set two days before the start of the novel. We are allowed to catch up before Rochford cleverly uses his characters’ memories to take us into the past, thereby providing us with some of the answers to the many questions buzzing around our heads. In parallel running chapters, Andrea relives her past via a conversation with a therapist while Robert unburdens himself in a drunken conversation with a recent acquaintance. For the final section of the novel, we are brought back to the present day in time for the denouement.
I really like the way Rochford presents his characters. There are no perfect heroes just flawed, damaged, not necessarily likeable people, getting by the best they can. Rochford has an excellent eye for detail and brings his characters alive with unusual observations. For example, he describes a lawyer in the book as someone who, “looked like a man who would die in his office rather than retire.”
Andrea Nox is my favourite character, a hard drinking, angry woman who is not averse to drunken one night stands. Her counterpart in the novel, Robert Duncan, is a heavy drinking idealist whose reputation is in tatters as a result of trying to expose a powerful politician as a brutal deviant. Both characters experienced traumatic childhoods which have had far reaching effects on their adult lives.
Andrea and Robert find themselves thrown together as a result of “the project,” a mysterious experiment with mind control. As the two of them get drawn further and further into the murky world surrounding the experimentation, they find themselves questioning their own sanity. Rochford raises the philosophical question of what is real and how do we know our perceptions of events are valid? After all, do people who are insane know they are insane and what is to say that they are?
I really liked The Blue Ridge Project; it is an exciting page turner that also provides the reader with food for thought. The novel ends on a cliff-hanger ready to continue into a sequel and, I for one will definitely be coming back for seconds.