The Facility is tough. The inmates are prisoners not patients, and as they are a threat to society, they have information that may have to beaten out of them. For the squeamish, this violence - and it is quite graphic - can be justified because they are sexual deviants who deserve the fate their lifestyles condemn them too.
"One more thing," says Graves (the head of the Facility). "They are dying... They might not know it but that's the truth of it...
"Please," he says, "Remember that, too."
But remembering compassion isn't the main concern in a paranoid Britain in which harsh anti-terror laws brought in after Drax power station was blown up by fundamentalists, are employed without mercy on gay men who spread a deadly new disease.
One of the challenges for a writer setting a novel in the near future or adjacent present, is to decide which bits of the real world to include, which bits to change, and then which parts of the changed world to explain. Clearly, one response is to create something so convincing and coherent that the fiction is accepted as reality, but those who can't quite pull this off run the risk of giving us a type of roman a clef, wherein the reader is constantly distracted - or - entertained - by making connections between worlds.
(Martin Sixsmith fell foul of this trap in Spin! which clouded his own widely known experience in a fictional future centred on a New Labour version of New Labour (remember that?). Political events and characters we knew interacted with future versions we thought we knew only too well.)
Simon Lelic poses similar problems for his readers in The Facility. As with his previous - and rather good - novel, Rupture, he tells a story from multiple perspectives, including those of Henry Graves, a prison governor whose career is path is sufficently awry that he ends up running the Facility, Arthur Priestley, a dentist who has the misfortune to be incarcerated in the facility, and Tom Clarke, a fairly useless journalist who is shamed into helping Arthur's wife to track him down.
Some of it is rather good.
Lelic writes well and creates vivid characters. But, for me, the tensions inherent in this future history prove too virulent for the novel to contain them. I simply couldn't believe that a British government would respond to an AIDS-like illness by imprisoning a small group of people who had come into contact with the disease and therefore might have become carrier in a barbarous concentration camp run for at the whim of a thuggish, populist politician.
To make things even more difficult, Lelic explicitly refers to the Patient Zero who was identified as the source of the HIV infection which emerged in California in the early 1980s, and was documented in Randy Shilts' book, And The Band Played On. That was then, this is how it could be even worse now...
Lelic has drawn on perhaps too many 'what-ifs', collected many potentially interesting characters, and borrowed too many tired tensions - good cop/ bad cop, hard man who can't handle his daughter, etc, etc.
Somehow it is good that his mid-30s dentist is called Arthur... until you find yourself wondering just how long Lelic worked to come up with a suitably unfashionable name.
I am, however, very grateful to him for creating a flawed and rather weak online journalist who will add something to Scoop! Journalists in Fiction: "I am a journalist. I'm just a journalist.... I just work here."
- Review copy supplied by UK & Beyond Book Tours . Interview with Simon Lelic to follow.