The Watchers by Jon Steele

June 7, 2011

Beneath Lausanne cathedral, in Switzerland, there is a secret buried before time began. Something unknown to angels and men. Until now…

Marc Rochat watches over the city at night from the belfry of the cathedral. He lives in a world of shadows and beforetimes and imaginary begins.

Katherine Taylor, call girl and dreamer, is about to discover that her real-life fairy tale is too good to be true.

Jay Harper, private detective, wakes in a crummy hotel room with no memory. When the telephone rings and he’s offered a job, he knows there is no choice but to accept.

Three lives, one purpose. Save what’s left of paradise before all hell breaks loose…

The Watchers is the debut novel by Jon Steele.  It explores the nature of good and evil, and how these forces affect everyone. Three residents of the historic town of Lausanne are caught up in a mystery surrounding the whereabouts of an Olympic official. As with all the best thrillers, there is more to this than initially meets the eye.

Mark Rochat, Katherine Taylor and Jay Harper make for a genuinely intriguing group of characters.  Steele takes great pains to flesh them out and make them all feel as real as possible.

Katherine is a strong, independent woman who believes she is living the good life in Switzerland. She makes her living as a high-class call girl with an exclusive escort agency. During one of her ‘appointments’ she is involved in a situation that can best be described as both horrific and life-changing.

Jay Harper starts off as a bit of an enigma. He is suffering from amnesia and remembers nothing of his life before arriving in town. He is a bit bolshie and has a mouth that is way too smart for it’s own good. I warmed to him immediately as his character injects some darkly humorous moments throughout. I also particularly enjoyed the treat of an unhurried reveal of his origins as the novel continued.

I am sure however that it will be the third member of the trio, Mark Rochat, that is destined to be a fan favourite.  He has a unique world view that is based on a lifetime of looking after the bells in the towers of Lausanne Cathedral.  Like a modern day Quasimodo, he watches the streets from high above. He has a quirky, childlike innocence that shines through and makes him incredibly likeable.  He is loyal, and his dedication to uncovering the nature of the ‘mysterious mysteries’ make him a real hero.

The vivid descriptions of  Lausanne give this novel a truly evocative setting. Stieg Larrson and John Ajvide Lindqvist are well known for bringing the Swedish countryside to life in their novels. I think that Jon Steele has the same keen eye for detail when it comes to Switzerland. While reading it was very easy to imagine the locations Steele describes, he obviously knows the town extremely well, and this knowledge leaps from the page. I remember after I first read The Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn I was so taken with the writing it prompted me to follow the character’s footsteps and journey to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Reading The Watchers has made me feel the same,  it will only matter of time before I make a similar journey to Lausanne.

In some respects, The Watchers is a quite difficult novel to classify. It is all expertly done but there is a lot going on here – one part thriller, one part murder mystery with additional supernatural components thrown in for good measure. I was impressed by the way all these disparate elements were brought together seamlessly. There are some great unexpected twists and turns that will keep any reader on their toes.

I was drawn in by the strong characterization and the utterly engrossing story. I think it is fair to say that things do start at quite a slow pace but personally I enjoyed this gradual ramping up of the tension. Conversely, the final hundred pages rattle by at a cracking pace. The novel’s finale features a dramatic battle and a quizzical epilogue which hints that there is more to come. I for one, welcome it.

The Watchers is published on the 9th June by Bantam Press.

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