Europe In Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson

18143945Today seems like a good day to post this one…

Europe In Autumn is set in a near future Europe, where in the aftermath of pandemic and economic collapse nations are splitting and fracturing into smaller states and entities. Devolution is the order of the day, from a bunch of organised football hooligans who have commandeered an ageing tower block estate, to an entire transcontinental railway line that runs from Portugal to Siberia. As countries spin off ever more republics, duchies and polities, like glaciers calving icebergs, border crossings and controls have become very tightly enforced, which in turn leads to a black market in couriers who can transport data, documents and even people across lines the local authorities would prefer them not to. The lead players in this market are Les Coureurs Du Bois, a cloak and dagger organisation dedicated to an idealistic vision of a world without borders and complete freedom to move – the Schengen dream revived.

We are introduced to Les Coureurs through Rudi, an peripatetic Estonian chef working in a Krakow restaurant. An encounter with some drunken rowdy Hungarians ends with him being inducted into their ranks, and embarking on a series of training missions where we see him build his operational knowledge, from a bumbling beginner to someone who can assess a situation and work out all the angles in a matter of minutes. Ultimately things go catastrophically wrong, pitching him into an unknown world of shifting loyalties and double crosses straight out of the finest espionage fiction, as he travels across a fractured continent trying to discover exactly who wants him dead. The novel reads more like Le CarrĂ© than it does SF, along with a heavy dose of Kafka’s Eastern European paranoia, before it opens out in the final few chapters.

This is a tremendous novel. Hutchison‘s writing is deft enough to keep the pages turning no matter how complex the plot gets (and boy, does it get complex), the espionage tradecraft is fascinating, and the evocation of a broken Europe seething with thousands of different cultural grudges is outstanding. I’ve just finished reading it for a second time, and it’s still of the most invigorating, unputdownable books I’ve read in recent years.