Arrival by Alex Slade
I must admit I was quite intrigued by this book before I’d even picked it up. While I hadn’t read anything from Alex Slade before Arrival, the intriguing genre blend of science fiction and crime fiction appealed to me as much as its gorgeously designed book cover.
The first character we meet is our protagonist Jake Westbrook, a mysterious and determined homicide detective who closes all his cases. Together with the younger and ambitious detective Tom, he finds that the newest case is something else entirely though, as they both get caught up in a slew of increasingly bizarre disappearances. Nobody knows where the missing persons are, and nobody has any clue about where they could possibly be found. It’s as if they’ve simply vanished. Who or what is taking them?
More anti-hero than hero, Jake has some flaws, and the novel drops hints that something dark happened in his past – little of which is shared with the reader. Slade has created this character in a manner that makes him multi-dimensional and more “human” – the kind of person with which the reader can easily empathize.
Arrival uses a unique structure to great effect. We find each chapter written in the perspective of alternating characters. At some point, we also see how this new character is somehow related to a missing person. It’s a dizzying pattern, by which we’re led deeper and deeper into the book’s central mystery. The author has chosen to name each chapter according to the title of the introduced character. For instance, we have The Pilot, The Teacher, and The Thief. Slade rarely brings in something that is unrelated to the plot, and we come to realize that these professional titles have a significance of their own. As the story unfolds, we discover more about the characters of Arrival – their histories and their personalities. We also learn that whilst their uniqueness is what sets them apart, it is also what they have in common.
Jake’s own sense of what is real starts to fall apart when he is able to talk to Frank (The Thief) – the only missing person who somehow made his way back home. Frank reveals something of the strange and awful horror of the “other” place – a place he is convinced is not of this world. He believes he was abducted by aliens – and while Jake at first is skeptical, it turns out Frank is right.
Meanwhile, more and more main characters disappear. The novel plunges the reader into the overwhelmingly unfamiliar scenes of this very same alien planet. We find it populated with creatures who have been somehow also taken from their homeland. In some parts of the planet, there is a firm kind of order, with rules to be respected and a certain hierarchy. However, on other parts there’s complete anarchy, where species wage a constant and bloody war against each other. Slade is an imaginative writer when it comes to creating original and fantastical settings.
While Arrival deals with many sci–fi themes, the author avoids the kind of complex, technical writing which could alienate some audiences (pun not intended). His clear and simple language ensures that readers’ attention is focused primarily on plot and characters. The scenes and chapters are kept brief, but with many twists and turns between them.
The ending leaves the reader with major questions unanswered, and with many characters’ stories unexplained. This may end up being more a “teaser” than a frustration however, as Arrival could be the first book of a sci-fi saga. Slade sure has the material to explore, and readers won’t get bored on the journey with him. If you enjoy TV shows like X–Files, Stranger Things, or books like The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies, then I’d recommend you to put this book on your reading list.