Gripping and engrossing from the very first chapter this is atmospheric teen thriller writing of the very highest order. Bowler gets the first-person voice of Zinny, his teenaged main character exactly right. Not too overdone, just sufficiently gritty and edgy.
Bowler has always had a marked talent for creating mood and atmosphere. What’s particularly impressive about Night Runner is the sense of being hounded and watched by an evil presence and, in terms of the book’s title, firstly being on the run from it, and then having to be a runner for it.
Bowler’s writing is also a model of compression – a demonstration that you simply do not need to overegg writing with ‘powerful’ adjectives and adverbs to create vivid scenes for the reader. One of the reasons Night Runner makes such an impact is, counter-intuitively, due to a limitation on visual descriptions of character and place. At just under 200 pages the book is almost entirely composed of action and dialogue. And this makes the reader supply their own visualisations, so that reading the book is a bit like having a nightmare.
The author gives the reader just enough and then is happy to let imagination do the rest.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the Pinkie-Brown-like character of the book’s villain.
“He’s got dark hair,” I go on, “slick, clean-shaven, smooth-looking guy, about thirty, and he’s got this flash coat.”
That’s Zinny, early on in the book, while calling the police. After that, ‘Flash Coat’ is all that’s required to convey the character’s presence.
The book is an especially pleasing read because it is not pure thriller. There is an affecting backstory here, regarding Zinny’s parents.
It’s a dark book, and at times unflinchingly violent. But a motif of light and hope keeps trying to break through, embodied by a library book of nature photography that Zinny has had out on extended loan.
Compelled to keep turning the pages from one exciting chapter to the next, I kept wondering how this motif might play out at the end. I won’t reveal how, just say that it does.
One of the best YA novels of 2014 for sure.