Ned Beauman
Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date:  January 20, 2015
ISBN 978-0-385-35260-4

Raf is 22 years old, and living in London, at least for a while longer.  He just broke up with his girlfriend and feels like he has to get away, has to start over somewhere new.  Problem is, other than bad memories cropping up no matter where he goes, he doesn’t have a lot of motivation to do much of anything.  Due to a sleep disorder, he’s unable to hold a conventional job but, because he’s 22 years old and living in London, he’s not that much into convention anyway.  So for a little cash he walks Rose, a loving Staffordshire terrier who otherwise spends her time guarding the antenna for a pirate radio station owned by Raf’s friend, Theo, and at nights he attends guerrilla raves (often DJ’ed by his roommate, Isaac), does drugs, and generally hangs on.

But one night, he meets a beautiful girl at a rave in a crowded laundromat, and learns about a new drug hitting the streets, called glow.  Then Theo disappears, and once Raf starts trying to find him, things get weird.  Soon he’s embroiled in a deeply entrenched corporate conspiracy reaching all the way to Burma, which, consequently, is where the girl of his dreams is from, as is the guys who seem to have taken over the radio station, and the guys with the glow…. And that doesn’t even start to explain the foxes that have turned up all over London….

And then things start to really get weird.

Glow is a glittering, snappy thriller that is full of low key dichotomies that enhance the story rather than detracting from it.  Raf is a smart kid, with a sharp mind, but he’s also a bit of a slacker, comfortable with what he has – and what he doesn’t.  When he’s trying to find out what happened to Theo, he doesn’t turn into a super sleuth, but he does use the knowledge he has – an awareness of drug culture and the internet savvy to learn more – to turn up clues that all the corporate know-how of the multi-national at the heart of the turmoil can’t even begin to fathom.  He stumbles onto their schemes and doesn’t know enough to be terrified, gaining him access that long term schemers marvel at.  Nevertheless his naive moxie mixed with his urban street smarts feel genuine, even while the situation at hand spirals deeper and deeper into the fantastic.

Don’t look for formula here.  No flinty eyed detectives.  No evil CEOs.  No minions… even the bull terrier is an archetype of the pups you see at the dog park rather than the curs at the junk yard.  And that’s part of what makes Glow so good – it feels plausible, and yet way out there.  You’ll learn about monomethylhydrazine and diurnal cycles, how to kill hogsnakes in the jungle, and even Carl Linnaeus’ Horologium Florae, and it will all feel cool.  Even if you’re not in your mid-20s anymore.