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White Devils
Paul McAuley
Pocket paperback £6.99

review by Barry Forshaw

As becomes more apparent daily, this is a dangerous world. But what is it that will finally ring the knell for us all? Once it might have been rat-borne plagues, but we've learned to be wary of many more things: sexually transmitted diseases, sneezes from the Far East, salmon sandwiches. And, of course, genetic engineering... The current furore about this grey area of science springs from its many possibilities. Paul McAuley's chilling White Devils plays cannily on our fears of unrestricted experimentation in such areas (it's not giving too much away to say that the White Devils of the title are the grotesque product of GE experiments), but this is only one of the many elements the author mixes into a particularly heady brew. It's a biotech thriller, certainly, but McAuley's consummate skills extend into the areas of characterisation and sociological observation, quite as much as the all-too-plausible scientific underpinnings.

Nicholas Hyde is doing volunteer work with a humanitarian charity in the strife-torn continent of Africa when he is caught up in a scene of carnage in the dense Congo forests. Nick's team is suddenly under attack - but from what? The things that lay siege to Nick and his crew are bizarre ape-like creatures, pale in colour and possessing enormous strength. Only Nick and a government observer escape the bloody slaughter with their lives - and Nick finds the truth about the encounter does not chime with the government-approved view of events. The team was, apparently, attacked by 'rebel troops in body paint'. But who is behind the government cover-up? To his cost, Nick finds that he has taken on the sinister organisation that has virtually taken over the Congo - the all-powerful Obligate. The corpse of one of the White Devils has been retrieved, but that vanishes - and Nick finds that he must undertake a nightmare journey into a near-future Heart of Darkness: The Dead Zone, dangerous territory in which the sect of the ape-like creatures hides, along with other more terrifying secrets.

The talented McAuley handles all of this with tremendous panache, and (as one would expect with this author) the science aspects here are handled with total assurance. But what really makes this a journey to remember is the diamond-sharp characterisation of Nick and his fellow travellers; this is always something more than straightforward thriller territory, although McAuley knows how to deliver the goods when it comes to the description of violent action.
White Devils

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