Bystander 27 by Rik Hoskin

August 7, 2020

For ex-Navy SEAL Jon Hayes, the super-powered ‘costumes’ are just part of ordinary life in New York City, until the day his pregnant wife Melanie is senselessly killed in a clash between Captain Light and The Jade Shade.

But as Hayes struggles to come to terms with his loss, and questions for the first time who the costumes are and where they come from, the once sharp lines of his reality begin to blur…

If Hayes wants to uncover the shocking truth about the figures behind the costumes, and get justice for his fallen family, he’ll have to step out of the background, and stop being a bystander.

In Bystander 27 by Rik Hoskin, superheroes and supervillains are a fact of life. They are famous, or infamous, depending on what side they are on. We get to follow a single man, Jon Hayes, as his entire existence is changed at a fundamental level by a seemingly random, horrific event that involves the biggest hero in New York.

Those of you who have read or watched The Boys are going to see, at least initially, similarities between Hayes and Wee Hughie’s origin story, but don’t worry that doesn’t last for long. The plot of this novel veers off on a completely different tangent to Garth Ennis’ comic book creation. Rest assured, Bystander 27 is entirely its own beast.

At first glance you might also be fooled into thinking that Hayes’ story is just one of revenge, but it goes much deeper than that. Hayes is utterly consumed by uncovering the truth. He can’t accept his wife’s death as a tragic accident, there has to be a reason behind it all. He doesn’t want vengeance; he just wants to try and understand an event that is beyond his capacity to understand. There are elements to his wife’s death that just don’t add up and Hayes can’t stop looking for answers, no matter what the cost.

I found myself imagining that Hayes’ story is taking place in tandem with bigger events that remain as yet unseen. He exists on the periphery of this larger story. New York is in a constant state of flux. You know the sort of thing – epic battles, virtuous good versus sinister evil locked in an eternal struggle. I liked that approach. Instead of focussing on all the bombastic superhero stuff we get to follow a far more personal journey.

One of the things I really liked were all the little details, the throw away lines about the heroes and villains in the city. Scattered throughout the narrative are tantalizing little titbits about what is going on elsewhere in the five boroughs. I suspect (hope) the author has a vast compendium that details all his various A, B and C list creations. I would love to know them all.

I really enjoyed this Bystander 27, to borrow from comic book parlance, it’s a perfect origin story. The world Rik Hoskin has created is rife with possibility. I was left wanting more, hopefully the author will revisit his superhero infused version of New York again, and we can all tag along for the ride. Put it this way, if you’ve ever tried the anthology novels from the shared Wild Cards universe, then I suspect you’ll get a kick out of Bystander 27. I would suggest you give it a go.

Bystander 27 is published by Angry Robot and is available from 11 August 2020.

My musical recommendation to accompany Bystander 27 is the soundtrack to Overwatch by Derek Duke. It’s all terribly heroic with just the right amount of anthemic awesomeness. The music is a perfect companion piece to the novel.


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