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Phase by Adam Hamdy

Thomas Schaefer is haunted by a memory. He has devoted a large part of his adult life to finding his kidnapped daughter. Since Amber’s disappearance ten years ago, Schaefer has become an expert in the recovery of missing people – his particular speciality is rescuing young adults from cults. When an old friend brings him a case that bears striking similarities to Amber’s kidnapping, Schaefer starts down a dark path that threatens his very existence.

I like to mix up my genres as much as I possibly can. Last week I was reading an upbeat young adult urban fantasy, so this week I was looking for something a mite darker. I’ve always been a firm believer that thrillers and horror make for a good fit when you are mashing genres together. Cults, possession, dark magic and kidnapping are a fertile playground when it comes to thriller fiction.

From the first page, Hamdy’s writing does a good job of giving us plenty of insight into Schaefer’s fragile, angry character. You quickly get the sense that you’re really getting under his skin. Thomas Schaefer is a man who has sacrificed everything, and I mean everything – his career, the rest of his family and possibly even his sanity – just on the off chance that he might be able to locate his daughter. He’s reached rock bottom and exists in a weird twilight world. The London described in Phase is a dark and sinister place. Full of sleazy information brokers and suspect government types, it feels like the dark underbelly of the metropolis is being laid bare. Each step Schaefer takes on his journey moves him further and further away from a normal life. He ekes out a meagre existence helping other families locate their own missing loved ones. He casts a pitiable shadow working out the back of a pub fuelled by a diet of unlimited booze and melancholy. Perhaps Schaefer isn’t the nicest person you’re ever likely to meet, but I’d imagine any parent would be able to empathise absolutely with his ever-worsening predicament.

When I started reading Phase, I was reminded of something and it took me a while to put my finger on it. Glad to say it, but eventually it came to me. There’s an old Alan Parker movie from 1987 called Angel Heart. In it, Mickey Rourke plays a down at heel private detective called Harry Angel. Though the time periods and locations are completely different, 1950s New York and present day London, Schaefer goes on a similar journey to Angel. While looking for a missing person, and both are pushed to the very edge of their limits both physical and mental. There is that same wonderfully dark tone and a lead character who feels adrift in his own life. The real differences between the two is that I think a reader gets a far better understanding of Thomas Schaefer than I think you ever get of Harry Angel.

A quick Internet search reveals that Adam Hamdy is also involved in comics and film so it hardly comes as a surprise that his writing has a very descriptive almost visual style. I wouldn’t be massively surprised if this story makes the leap from page to screen at some point, it seems like the next logical step. This is exactly the sort of ambiguous tale that the BBC excels in producing. I shall start pondering my dream cast immediately.

Sometimes it’s nice to start reading a book and have absolutely no preconceptions as you begin. I didn’t know anything about Adam Hamdy before I started reading Phase, but now I’ve remedied that situation I’ll certainly be looking out for his name again in the future. Phase is a short sharp shock of a novel the perfectly captures its intended darkly supernatural thriller vibe.

Phase is published by Dare Books and is available now.

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