If you throw a series of pebbles into a pond, what happens? You create numerous ripples that ultimately intersect each other. The plot of GH Bright’s novel, An Unusual Chain of Events, illustrates with fractal intricacy how one brutal night of violence can have far reaching consequences that no one could have imagined.
After being initiated by a prologue that depicts a vicious attack, the book is broken up into four parts where we are introduced to a host of characters that might seem comfortable in the potboilers of the 1980s. We meet David, the repressed businessman, his bored and insecure wife Sally, whose crumbing marriage forms the bedrock on which the rest of the story in built. Neither are likeable characters and one can be forgiven for thinking David has a reason for his behaviour but when the truth is revealed, it invokes genuine surprise.
Each act introduces us to a new set of characters, including Sally’s brother Dean, the drug dealing mobster. Dean returns to England for Sally’s sake only to find himself faced with betrayal and a fight for his life in a gang war. Through Dean we meet Sian, Sally’s friend, estranged after her marriage to David. The third act leads into the introduction of Jo and her band the White Swans. In the midst of all this, DI Harper makes his emergence and may be as much a pebble in the pond as the rape that begins this story.
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the latticework of characters the author is creating. Dean and DI Harper are standouts while Sally’s insecurity is tiresome when compared to Jo’s contentment and Sian’s sarcasm. The hunt for the killer which takes up much of the plot is also quite gripping and I did a binge read to get to the end to see what happens.
The book also makes an admirable attempt to explore the often taboo subject of male rape and its effect on its victims. One cannot help but empathise with the killer’s motivations when one realises the source of it, even if only serves to further damage an already dangerous psyche. It speaks to the ability of the author to paint his characters in shades of grey.
There are depictions of graphic sex but it does not ever gratuitous and serves to explain the motivations of some characters. If I had a complaint, I felt that the book might have been structured better. The gangland war with Dean and the Turks felt too long and added little to the overall plot. The introduction of Jo and the White Swans is not as seamless as it should be and some connections strained credibility. Sian’s revelation that she knew the truth about David without revealing it to Sally was difficult to swallow.
Other than that, this was a delicious read and I was very satisfied when I reached the end. The characters have messy, flawed lives but it makes them relatable since it’s an accurate picture of the human condition.