I had to mull this one over several times in my head before writing this review. The Stone Man left me with a strange aftertaste that is very difficult to put into words, but here we go...
The novel is told from the perspective of Andy Pointer, an anti-social reporter that could be about to land the biggest story of his life. On a regular summers day in Coventry, a sudden disturbance causes hundreds of people to gather at its centre. Andy fights his way through the crowd to find out what the excitement is about; at its core, an eight-foot stone man. Some claimed it appeared out of nowhere, others weren't so sure. It was probably some trick, and it was all rather entertaining until it started walking. As Andy and the excited onlookers marvelled at the brilliant performance of the walking giant, the laughs turned to screams when someone tried to jump on its back, and soon death was in the air when it walked straight through a museum wall, killing those behind it.
The shock and marvel at the presence of the stone man is portrayed brilliantly by Smithard, who manages to instil the fear and confusion so well that you could imagine it happening in real life. The novel has a level of unrelenting tension from the first to the final page that kept me, in some instanses, reading so fast that the pages were beginning to blur. The main characters are thoroughly imagined and Smithard struck a strong balance between the three - Any Pointer, his reluctant sidekick Paul and Brigadier Straud. So, what could I possibly dislike?
The Stone Man is self-published (and? You may be asking?). But, it is painfully obvious from the beginning that Smitherd did not have this novel edited, as is evident by the twenty plus errors. I can excuse the odd mistake if it doesn't affect the flow of the story, but The Stone Man has simply too many typos, duplicates and incorrect words to be acceptable at this level of writing. Some of the typos stopped me in my tracks and destroyed the image in my mind, and for that moment, just left me as reader reading words which broke the immersion. It's a dreadful shame, as Smitherd's imagination kept me completely enthralled until I had to occasionally stop. It was like a slap in the face.
The other problem, and perhaps my biggest irk is the overblown dialogue. For the former part of The Stone Man, I was constantly held in tension as to what was happening and why. Smitherd had me gripped as very little was answered as to the goal of the Stone Man and its obvious affects that it was having on the two lead characters - Andy and Paul. But the tension became hindered by frustration as page after page passed that didn't move the plot whatsoever. Andy was feeling hungry? Five pages. Andy travelling on a motorbike? Five pages. Not to mention the trawling inner dialogue that built up to a pending event. I found myself consciously aware that I spent the latter half of The Stone Man rolling my eyes and, in some cases, even skipping a few pages just to see if the dialogue was still banging on about the same dull subject. When something is about to go bang, I want tension, not forty minutes of speed reading about how the protagonist's bowel movements and sleeping patterns had been spoilt by the day's events.
My final issue with The Stone Man are the loose ends. There are some very strange occurrences in the novel that are brilliantly imagined but never actually answered. There are several times where the temperature around the perimeter of the stone man drop dramatically and this seems to be very important, but the reason is only ever theorised and becomes irrelevant. In equal part, those who have had contact with the stone man enter a vegative state and appear to be rattling off some sort of repeating code. Strange? Yes. Answered? No.
Despite the issues that I found when reading this novel, I would still highly recommend it. Luke Smitherd has given us something brilliantly imagined with fully developed characters and an overwhelming sense of fear and panic of the unknown. The stone man itself is very intimidating and you get a very real sense of its weight and unstoppable nature. The main character, Andy Pointer is very real and equally likeable, and you really do pine for him on his journey with reluctant sidekick Paul Winter to find out the truth of the stone man. I would also like to make a special mention to the female brigadier, Straud. I don't need to mention that Straud is female specifically but Smitherd goes above and beyond to relay that she is formidable and professional, something that you are constantly reminded of (I couldn't shake the feeling that she was a token female), but she keeps the story well balanced and you can't help but like her.
I admire the guts that Smitherd had for The Stone Man, but I think it would have been far more sinister as a short story, as I could have comfortably trimmed about twenty thousand words off it, but that is my impatience as a reader coming through.