ENGINES BENEATH US by Malcolm Devlin

Rob lives with his parents on The Crescent, a row of houses built to accommodate the employees of The Works and their families. Beneath the city, machines rumble and gears grind, a mysterious and persistent counterpoint to the lives of the residents. When Lee Wrexler and his father move into The Crescent, the dynamic of the street kids changes. Lee brings something from the outside, something that dares question the way of life that the families of The Crescent have taken generations to learn to accept.

This is quite simply brilliant, easily one of the best novellas I have read in many years. The characters are well-drawn and compelling, the childhood scenario familiar and engaging. But it’s only when the weird aspect of the narrative is introduced that the sense of wrongness begins to infiltrate the plot, creating a haunting and memorable story. The subtle ambiguity and carefully disciplined level of exposition are pitch-perfect, and Devlin does a wonderful job of balancing the strange proceedings with the mesmerising sense of nostalgia. In fact, I’d welcome reading something of novel length set in this universe, such is the richness of the setup. I’d class this novella as essential reading for lovers of weird fiction and so it comes highly recommended.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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