In Maps of Hell, British crime writer Matt Wells initially has a bigger problem on his hands than nailing his enemies… he has to figure out who he is first.
The book opens with Matt regaining consciousness in a tiny cell, naked, beaten and unable to recall who he is or how he got there. He’s taken from his cell repeatedly for bizarre, Clockwork Orange-esque sessions aimed at conditioning his mind… but to what end? Matt doesn’t want to stick around long enough to find out.
Taking advantage of a lapse in one of the sessions he makes a daring escape, during which he realizes that he – and many others – are being held and experimented on by a fringe militia group at a compound deep in the forests of Maine. His memory slowly returns while he’s on the run trying desperately to stay one step ahead of his militia pursuers. And they aren’t the only ones looking for him.
A series of gruesome murders have been occurring in Washington, D.C., with Matt’s fingerprints turning up at one of the crime scenes. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s also wanted for questioning in the disappearance of his girlfriend, British DCI Karen Oaten, who was in D.C. to meet with the Department of Justice.
Now, in addition to trying to stay one step ahead of the militia members tracking him, Matt also has to decide whether to go to the authorities and trust them to believe his story, or try on his own to solve the puzzle of his abduction, his girlfriend’s disappearance, and why he’s being framed for murder.
Maps of Hell is a truly frantic and engaging read. It is decidedly unnerving to be thrust into a world where the narrator, normally the reader’s guide, himself doesn’t know precisely what’s going on. And author Paul Johnston has captured Matt’s fear and confusion in a way that’s so vivid it’s almost palpable:
When I came round, I didn’t have a clue where I was. My head was ringing with strange sounds and I saw a blur of colors and shapes. Gradually my vision cleared, but my ears were still filled with discordant voices. There was a foul stench in my nostrils. I tried to move, but my arms and legs were confined. I looked down and saw that I had been tied to a wheelchair. I was wearing paper clothes again. I felt a twinge of alarm and glanced around. What I saw wasn’t reassuring.
Having read the previous two books in the Matt Wells series is not required in order to enjoy Maps of Hell. In fact, not having done so could arguably enhance the experience as the reader would truly be discovering everything for the first time right along with Matt as he struggles to understand who he is and what’s happening to him.
Author Paul Johnston consistently produces books that manage to take a familiar premise and completely turn it on its ear, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Maps of Hell. If you’ve not read anything by Johnston before, grab a copy of Maps of Hell and begin your journey into the mind of one of the most creative – and criminally under the radar – thriller writers working today.
Maps of Hell is available from Mira (ISBN: 978-0778327783).