A writer as cynical as he is jittery, an old acquaintance who may be magician and a whole heap of wyrd history leads us into Adam Nevill’s utterly fascinating tale, Under A Watchful Eye. While recalling titans such as Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, it is original, surprising and (at times) eyes-to-the-side terrifying.
As with Nevill’s Lost Girl, the story is set in the safety of recognisable locations in Devon and student-land London. From this landscape of genteel idleness, it is totally believable that a rag-tag cast of reprobates materialise. Chief among them is Ewan, a sometime nemesis that everyone has met at some point. Long descriptions of Ewan establish a will-driven sense of menace that makes the fantastical elements believable.
Language shifts between bloke-talk and vocabulary so rich that calling to the invisible seems natural. Indeed, horror fans may recognise references that convey paranormal paranoia perfectly while also raising a snort for anyone who has stumbled the internet into strange places; a nod to the sublime-ridiculous in south London is ‘true’ regardless. Group mentality is described via evocations of pretty words and saliva-stained sheets that make you itch.
Structurally, early passages drag a little, though they establish the tone for terrifying action sequences and result in tragic resonance. While genre boxes are ticked, Nevill alters the narrative voice to feel like a spiritual journey, while sardonic meta-sections stop things from getting too downbeat.
Under A Watchful Eye makes the reader despise, despair of and desperately want everything the narrator experiences. It’s a staggeringly ambitious work that questions the goal of the human