THE LAST BUS by Paul M Feeney – a review by Gary Fry
Just read Paul Feeney’s solidly entertaining novella THE LAST BUS. If action-jammed alien invasion tales are your thing, I’m sure you’ll take a great deal from this compact, well-written, nicely characterised work.
I needn’t outline the plot – it’s straightforward enough. But I would like to focus on a few things I thought Paul did particularly well. The most obvious was the smart way he introduced his characters, especially when one female passenger describes others according to characteristics she’s assigned to them during previous bus rides. This was a nice touch, and if it was a theme which invited more development – the gap between perception and reality – perhaps Paul will explore that further in future work.
I liked the novella’s pacing, too, with the main narrative broken up by episodic interludes very much in the style of good old James Herbert. In fact, quite a lot of this book reminded me of Herbert’s work – its literate, pacey prose; its light-touch yet far from negligible psychology; its intermittent scenes of vividly described gore. There is a lot to admire here from a storytelling, popular fiction point of view.
There were a few minor issues I had with the novella: very occasionally Paul used a limp stock-phrase during a set-piece. For instance, in the first description of one of his creatures attacking, he suggests that the pain a character experiences lasts “for all eternity”. Such phrasing just kind of lies there in the page, awaiting a further draft. There are a few other occasions when Paul’s otherwise lively prose suffers similar – there’s a “for all the world” and a “seemed to take forever” in there, too – but as I say, this is a minor point, and one easily addressed.
I felt the whole terrorist angle – all the characters drawing a similar conclusion in response to the invasion – was hackneyed but nicely done, and yet when Ran’ reveals his suspicions that the events are otherworldly, the narrative seems to take a leap of logic, from a rational explanation to this one. I felt as if Paul had missed a beat here, as if he needed to prepare his characters a bit more to accept the unnatural account to make it feel convincing. Again, a small point, but I think this kind of fiction thrives on such realistic embeddedness in everyday life.
I thought the plot was full of gripping action and effective imagery, but it never did much new with this kind of material, seeming content to remain in the perfectly respectable realm of “solid pulp tale well told”. Don’t misunderstand me: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with such an aspiration, particularly when it’s executed as well as it is here, but for me, top marks go to those pieces which seek to explore fresh ideas.
In summation I’d describe THE LAST BUS as an entirely enjoyable read, with some classy writing, wryly casual insights (I like the way the central character Jonathan sums up his impromptu tryst with Hanna thus: “ [t]here was something deeply ironic about having to go through a near end of the world scenario simply to find the courage to speak to a person you found attractive”), entertaining story developments, and a suitably sour conclusion. All in all, I was very impressed by the novella and would certainly read more at length from Paul.