This is the sort of novel writers dream of writing, at least those hoping to loiter in cool bars with ceiling fans and be the next Hemmingway. It’s continents from the current popularity of misery-lit and its ‘families with a secret spanning generations’, and girls on trains. Osborne’s protagonist Robert Grieve is actually running away from such dramas; from the conformity of his teaching job and daytime ITV, to the sunbaked streets of Thailand and Cambodia. It captures the sort of atmosphere only novels can. It might make a movie, but never a computer game, this steaming cocktail of history, lust and hate only truly breathes on the page. Anyone with unresolved wanderlust would be ill-advised to read this book.
Plenty of travellers plan to write. To sway on hammocks between the timeless palms, but few ever do (probably for the best). But, most significantly they return home. Majority of travellers simply collect some anecdotes, and a STD, before accepting their fate to swap oysters for an Oyster card and a career in marketing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some people stay out there. And write. As Lawrence Osborne has done; both he and his protagonist Robert Grieve, are lost out there in the haze. It’s as inspiring as it is depressing for those of us who aren’t.
The most striking element of Hunters in the Dark is Osborne’s disregard for writing rules advising against describing weather. The muggy heat and storm clouds hang overhead as rain explodes in the road, and the narrative builds like the monsoon heat; without its weather they’d only be half the novel, and this is not a criticism.
As with his previous novel, The Forgiven, the story involves the darkness at the fringe of the road, beyond the pool of unreliable streetlight, where the jungle begins and civilisation wobbles. It explores the possibility of Robert Grieve taking another man’s identity, one that has been forced upon him, and how that affects the world around him.
Osborne’s prose is effortlessly poetic without you hating it: ‘The river ran between mud and chalk banks and in high summer there was a feeling of death and stillness upon it, abandoned tankers rusting in the shallows…’
He’s compared to Graham Greene so frequently that it’s a shock when Osborne actually
mentions him, but anyone thinking of escaping needs to read this, to taste the embrace of aimlessness and the danger of drifting into night’s shadows beyond the sun-scorched days. As he falls deeper into the country with a keen memory and a harsh violence that belies the idyll. The changing PoV is sometimes disconcerting but it escalates the tension, and you’re left with a sense of justice that could have so easily have gone wrong. It reads like a lost classic, yet it’s contemporary. It feels good to line the pockets of a living author, rather than his estate. Osborne is a precious find, and as with many good authors, feels like your secret alone.