Doctor Caroline Burchell is a specialist in virology at the most unusual research centre in the world. Spire is a high-tech facility in the Antarctic wastes – a structure designed to cope with the brutal winters, and to keep the inhabitants alive for the months when no outside help can get to them.
When people start falling ill with exotic diseases, suspicion falls on Caroline. She’s the only one with access to the viruses. Apparently alone in a facility filled with corpses, Caroline has to find a way to survive the winter and convince the outside world that she’s not a crazed eco-terrorist. As she desperately tries to keep the facility functional, she can’t escape the feeling that she’s being watched.
Spire is a sequel, of sorts, to Now Following You. Caroline is a minor character in the other novel, and the protagonist in this one. Other than that, there’s not much directly linking the two books – you definitely don’t need to have read Now Following You to understand what’s going on. Both books do have a common theme though – stalking. It’s definitely a focus topic for the author. Spire is about Caroline’s isolation, but it’s also about being hunted by an unseen presence, about living with constant fear.
There is a romantic plot in this book, but it’s very definitely a subplot, not something that fights with the main narrative. That’s a positive – unlike Now Following You, Snyckers has the room to expand upon the thriller elements, creating a more tense and disturbing narrative. In places, Spire is extremely creepy. The antagonist is rarely present, but manages to project enough menace to carry it through. That’s what you want from a book about a stalker – they should hold all the cards, having an impact even when they are absent.
One aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed is the setting. Snycker spends a lot of time explaining how Spire works – the various ways in which it has to be maintained, and the technologies involved. I love that kind of thing; it’s always a shame when an author picks a fascinating setting and then skims over it. That doesn’t happen here – Spire is one of the better-realised futuristic research centres I can remember reading.
The plot is complex and twisty. There are multiple reveals of new information, and at points it feels a little contrived. A couple of times, there’s a deus ex machina feel to the way that conflicts are resolved, which always weakens the impact of near-death experiences and close escapes. It’s a shame, because a couple of little changes would have made the resolution of Caroline’s problems more satisfying.
I wasn’t particularly keen on Now Following You, but Spire is noticeably better. I liked that it was more of a thriller, and that it took risks – books resting on a single, mostly solitary character are difficult to pull off well. Mostly, I enjoy the concept; the world could do with more stories about scared people in isolated polar facilities. Spire is a decent example of the genre.
In the overly-cautious interests of fairness, I should mention that I received a copy of this book free, with the expectation that I would review it.