The Noise Review: An Engaging If Overly Long Fantasy Thriller

Having recently reviewed James Patterson and Bill Clinton’s book The President’s Daughter, I was excited to check out his latest book, The Noise.

A collaboration with J.D. Barker, the book is set in modern day America, in a remote settlement where a sudden anomaly tears through the landscape and leaves destruction in its wake. The anomaly is a loud noise, that causes physical and mental devastation to everything in its path. The book switches between perspectives, so the reader gets to see the destruction from various viewpoints.

Among these is a scientist, Dr Martha Chan, who is bought in by the US government to investigate the anomaly and what caused it. There are also two young girls, Tenant and Sophie, who lived in an off-the-grid settlement and survive the disaster, alongside their labrador Zeke. The pair settle into a storm shelter after the noise catching them out while they’re trapping rabbits. Once the event is, seemingly, over, the pair resurface, with Sophie experiencing strange symptoms, including a fever. She also keeps saying ‘Anna Shim’, a name that her sister doesn’t know. Another character whose perspective the authors show to the reader is a US solider who works with Martha to try and understand what’s going on.

The initial team bought in to deal with the anomaly and understand it thins out, as specialists visit the site of the tragedy and promptly disappear. The leader who’s handling the situation instates a 2 hour rule, where everyone has to leave the site of the anomaly after 2 hours or less.

That doesn’t stop him and others from disappearing. As the anomaly hits other towns and other people encounter it, it becomes clear that the problem is spreading and that it is gathering momentum and growing in power. The initial team bought in by the US government thins down to a few, including Dr Chan and the solider, who work together to analyse the two girls that survived the initial blast and work out what’s causing it.

With the threat growing ever more real and major, the US government realises that if it doesn’t do something soon, then other international powers will take action. The anomaly and the destruction it causes are soon covered by the media, both traditional and social. The result is mass panic, and a gripping race for the characters to understand the noise and what it means for humanity.

The Noise starts out a little slowly, with a lot of exposition that makes the book exceptionally and needlessly long. However, as the book picks up its pace towards the middle, it becomes a unique take on the modern fantasy thriller. It blends the writers’ skills in political and thriller writing with a creative dystopian world in which all of humanity is at risk from being consumed by an all-encompassing sound.

What I like the most about the novel is the characterisation. There are loads of great characters and engaging dialogue, so the reader starts to really feel invested in the story and wants these characters to survive. That’s particularly true of Dr Martha Chan, who is an engaging character who is both interesting and empathetic. Her relationship with the two girls who survived the anomaly is endearing and pushes the reader to want her to survive and find a way to deal with the issue facing humankind. She regularly mentions her young twin children, which brings us back to the real facts of the issue: that the anomaly could potentially wipe out everything she and the other experts hold dear.

The chapters that are from Dr Chan’s perspective are intriguing and engaging, as are the ones from Tenant’s point of view. However, as the book jumps around so much, it’s difficult for readers to keep up with the complicated story and feel truly engaged in it. The story jumps not just in perspective but also in space, as the book takes us to different areas near or around the anomaly or to a secure unit where the army is experimenting to find a way to stop the noise from infecting other people.

In the end, it’s clear that Patterson and Barker are trying to emulate Stephen King with this supernatural thriller, right at the time when King is trying his hand at police procedural writing. It makes for a unique insight into the literary world, but as far as reading experiences go, The Noise needs some work. For a first attempt it isn’t half bad, and with a little sharpening and less repositioning of the narrative, I think that the two authors have the potential to become a fantasy thriller powerhouse.

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