It’s not that I haven’t read a lot of British fiction. Like many Americans (especially those of us of a certain age), I grew up on books by British writers. I have read hundreds of them over the years, books covering just about every period of British history right up to contemporary life in the U.K. And I lived in London for much of the nineties. But the England Neil Grimmett describes in The Hoard is such a surrealistically haunting place that I find myself still thinking about it some two weeks after I turned the last page of Grimmett’s dark thriller.
The Hoard is based upon a real-life explosion that occurred at Bridgewater’s Royal Ordinance Factory in 1951, a horrendous, never explained, explosion that killed an entire production crew. Starting with that incident, Grimmett builds a scenario in which the factory’s higher-ups are involved in a complicated plot through which they are hoarding unaccounted for high-explosives to be smuggled out of the factory later as they are sold to the highest bidder. Now, almost thirty years later, it is time to cash in. The culprits are all old men looking to feather their nests before calling it a day – time is running out.
But there is one problem, a big one, and his name is Byron.
Byron’s father, you see, was killed in the original explosion, and Byron has come to suspect that his father’s death was murder – not an accident. More importantly, he has gotten a job inside the ordinance factory and he is determined to find out what really happened on the day his father died. But whom can he trust? And what will happen to him and anyone helping him if he is exposed for what he is: a man on a mission to bring down some of the most powerful and influential men in all of Bridgewater?
The Hoard is a rather complicated, first-rate, thriller but I will remember it primarily for its distinct setting and atmosphere. The Bridgewater of Grimmett’s novel can be described as a one-company town gone terribly bad. Everything one can imagine to be wrong about a town completely dominated by a single employer whose every resident depends entirely upon the company for his livelihood is here in spades. The corrupt managers of the Royal Ordinance Factory demand complete loyalty and silence from employees. What they see and do inside the factory is never to be spoken of outside the factory gates. Workers who dare get a little too curious are dealt with harshly – that is, if they even live long enough to regret their curiosity.
The Hoard is quite a ride even for experienced thriller fans.