Following an anthrax attack that kills hundreds of thousands, Finn starts to feel a bit strange. He hopes he isn’t falling ill but become more concerned when he starts blurting out sentences at random. What’s even stranger is that he’s saying things that sound like his Grandpa, who died the same day as his wife, two years’ earlier. Is this a side-effect of the anthrax? Is he going crazy? Or could it just possibly be his Grandpa communicating from beyond the grave? And if so, does that mean he can find his wife?

Hitchers and I got off on the wrong foot. In this world of ebooks, it’s even more important to make an impact with the first chapter, as many people will just download a free sample before deciding whether to part with their hard earned cash. In this instance, I would have walked away. Finn’s wife is introduced, a confrontational woman, yet she falls to pieces in the face of a storm and some long grass that she thinks might contain snakes. She is abruptly killed off and to be fair, this isn’t something I was disappointed with. Whilst not a fully formed character, I didn’t like her much. The main problem was they were paddling down river in a metal canoe when the storm started. Thinking metal containers are pretty safe things to be in around lightning, I asked around for other opinions and the general consensus is that the canoe would have acted as a Faraday cage. Yet still, she died from a lightning strike that hit ground on the opposite side of the river.

So maybe that put me in a mood to enjoy the book less. Whilst the idea was good, I found it all a bit bland. Two years later, Finn goes on a date and reveals he isn’t over the death of his wife however as a first person narrator, the grief should have been felt through his words. The only reason I knew he was grieving was because the reader is told outright. Finn has other friends die and he just seems to get on with it.

It’s a quick read although some scenes are a bit too rushed and are left unconnected to the following plot. If someone tries to kill you, wouldn’t it stay with you a few days? The anthrax attack also appeared to be over in record time, with only a lack of Snickers bars in the shops to show for it. Other times Finn would just come to a conclusion that happened to be right but without much leading up to it. Altogether it read like a first draft instead of a novel in the final stages of publication.

McIntosh’s vision of the afterlife shows potential but I think it is forsaken for the conflict between Finn and his Grandpa. Grandpa feels a little too much like a caricature of a cantankerous old drunk and there is no leeway for any kind of compassion towards him. It’s all very black and white.

Will McIntosh is not a new writer however his critical acclaim has mostly been for shorter works of fiction. Hitchers sort of has a feeling of small episodes strung together into a novel. There are some parts that gave me pause for thought and I would certainly be tempted to read some of his short stories.

Hitchers is published by Night Shade Books and will be available in hardback from 24th January 2012. I received this book to review from the publisher via NetGalley. It has been reviewed in a more favourable light at Staffer’s Musings and Bibliotropic if you want to read other viewpoints.