I’m not much of a “thriller” enthusiast, but I greatly enjoyed a book that my son loaned me. It’s Run, by Blake Crouch, an apocalyptic novel set in more or less contemporaneous times, featuring a family that is desperately trying to find sanctuary away from the delirious violence that has beset the United States as the result of an astronomical phenomenon – a sunburst of some kind – that has activated a dormant and malevolent gene in everyone who viewed the event and turned them into merciless killers who seek to destroy those people who were not witnesses.
The novel takes us almost directly into the chaos. We see otherwise normal human beings, including cops, carrying out mass murders, there are government appeals for calm – and then the nation’s power grids shut down, and there is only the monotonous, but chilling, voice of a woman reading out the names of people targeted for extermination over the Emergency Broadcasting System.
Jack Colclough hears the names of his own family read out on the radio, and they effect a nail-biting escape from their home in Albuquerque, heading north along secondary roads and, occasionally, across open ground, relentlessly north toward Canada, where the astronomical event was not visible, and there are rumors of refugee camps. Dodging gunfire and eluding pursuit, they wind their torturous way into Colorado, encountering unspeakable horrors along the way: men, women and children shot to death, burned alive, hacked to pieces. When their vehicle breaks down, they set out on foot, up into the mountains, nearly starving. Jack, his wife Dee, their teenage daughter Naomi and their young son Cole are close to the limits of their endurance, when Jack scouts ahead to check out what appears to be a military encampment. To his horror, he discovers too late that he has walked into the middle of a band of “the affected”, and he is taken prisoner. Much of the rest of the book describes their separate but equally hair-raising adventures, as Jack seeks to escape from his tormentors, and Dee tries to find him.
The novel is a fascinating page-turner taken simply as a work of fiction; however, for me, it took on an ominous aspect of reality as the fanatical bloodlust exhibited by the affected, for whom the witnessing of the strange aurora is a near-religious experience, propels them toward genocidal attacks against normal, unaffected human beings who have suddenly become the reviled and intolerable “other” – eerily reminiscent of the wholesale savagery being committed by Islamists in Iraq and Syria at this very moment. Run is an exciting read and a cautionary tale that serves to remind us that the world can be, and frequently is, a dangerous place, and that the essential component of evil is its sheer destructiveness – and, in its purest form, self-destructiveness.