Henry Porter has written one of the best thrillers I've ever read. The Dying Light is set in Britain in the near future, where the tentacles of the surveillance state have been extending their reach throughout society. Our rulers are driven by misguided paternalism; their sense of right and wrong has been subverted by the inevitably corrupting influence of unaccountable power.
The heroine, Kate Lockhart, is thrown into a dangerous attempt to uncover the rotteness of the government after her estranged best friend is killed in a bomb blast and puts her unwillingly in the centre of a last-ditch effort to save British democracy.
The best thing about this book is Mr Porter's characterisation: he vividly describes all the actors in the drama. He introduces us to an unlikely band of heroes and villains, and people sitting uneasily inbetween. All the characters have human doubts and fears, but those on the good side also burn brightly with a deeply human longing to live freely and make their own decisions about their own lives. They retain a moral compass that the government lost long ago thanks to the death of ideology and to the cult of managerialism and centralisation.
Though it would be wrong to expose the twists and surprises in the plot (of which there are enough to make the book almost impossible to put down!), it is worth stressing - as Mr Porter does in his Afterword - that all the laws used and abused by his fictional government are already on the statute book. So on one level this book is a frightening and thought-provoking exposé of a country that has sleep-walked into putting too much trust to politicians and civil servants who rarely reciprocate by trusting the people to get on with their own lives without nannying or worse. The only thing standing between Britain in 2009 and Mr Porter's fiction is the relative decency of our current rulers.
At the same time The Dying Light is also an uplifting story of the bravery of some very human people in the face of authoritarianism run rampant. In this way it reminds me of the outstanding film The Lives Of Others: just as the film movingly depicts the heroism of the dissident and of the Stasi officer whose humanity makes him rebel against the machine in which he is a human cog, the key characters of this book include both public servants whose moral qualms trump deference to authority and would-be free spirits. Buy this book - you will finish it in a few sittings but you will have much food for thought well after you read the last page.