Past Tense by Nick Marsh

Rating 7.0/10
There is much potential in this odd, satisfying novel.

Past Tense is Nick Marsh’s second novel and the second book in the conduit sequence featuring Alan Reece. In his debut novel Soul Purpose Reece discovers that as well as being an unassuming country vet he is also a ‘conduit’, a link between the real world and the otherworldly spirit world. Aided by his friends, uber-geek George and medium turned physicist Kate they set about trying to save the world.

Past Tense picks up the story a year on; for the most part Alan has tried to ignore his new conduit skills and has concentrated on being a vet. But life is about to get very difficult for Alan and his friends. When Alan was accidentally turned into a conduit it triggered a series of events that caused something very nasty to be released into the real world, this dark creature has no plans to return to the terrible prison it escaped from and decides to set up a home in Britain’s past and change the future for good. Alan must travel back in time and stop the creature before permanent damage is done.

Marsh is a full time vet and a self confessed geek and this shines through in his funny, original and extremely weird novel. The book is peppered with pop culture references and sci-fi homage’s, from Red Dwarf marathons to Star Wars t-shirts.

Marsh has created a wonderfully recognisable reality for his characters to inhabit, full of English quirks and eccentricities. His main character, Alan Reece, is straight from the Arthur Dent School of hopeless heroes. Thrown into a situation none of his making and forced to make the best of it. He is the typical straight man, while odd and well rounded characters pop up in the supporting roles. Alan’s best friend George, a sometimes journalist, is the books most identifiable character. We all have friends like George, a bit of an embarrassment, says the wrongs things at the wrong times, but steadfast and loyal. The other main support, Kate, is a joy of a character. Quirky and different, she is the glue that holds this unlikely collection of heroes together, a girl with the gift of being able to communicate with the dead she is also a theoretical physicist. This may sound like something out of a bad Hollywood blockbuster and in less subtle and skilled hands the character would not work. But Marsh finds both comedy and poignancy in this tough, fiery woman.

Marsh’s humour is gentle rather than laugh out loud and it fits in well with the books tone and pacing, while fast and furious at points, the overall story plays out at a leisurely pace. The book is particularly strong when the action is moved into Roman Britain. The period detail is impressive, Marsh has obviously done his homework and while at first the change felt a little jarring, it soon settled.

In many ways Past Tense is not an easy book to pigeonhole, (a big plus in my opinion.) It’s not quite science fiction and not really fantasy, it has a smattering of historical fiction but then you could call it a straight out comedy. While this may sound a bit confusing the fusing of many genres creates something new, surprising and unashamedly British.

At times the book does wander off track a little and Marsh’s writing style might frustrate a few readers. He sometimes takes six sentences to say what could easily be achieved in one. He is also trying so hard to capture the spirit of Douglas Adams you can almost hear him straining over the keyboard. The story also lacks a really convincing baddie. He comes close with the roman Prefect Quintus, (the human form of the dark creature released into Roman Britain) but it doesn’t quite work. At times, when Quintus becomes something other than human there is genuine tension, but a lot of the time he just seems a bit annoyed.

These are however small faults in what is largely a great success, I hope that with Past Tense Marsh is exposed to a wider audience because he has a voice all of his own. It may be a whisper at the moment but it could grow into a roar. There is much potential in this odd, satisfying novel.

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