The Book of Sand, by Theo Clare

The story

A group of people toil across a scorching desert towards a weird shelter on stilts: the ‘shuck’ they call home. Shimmering on the horizon, silhouettes, recognisable as once-thriving cities from disparate continents. Now abandoned and derelict, subject to wind and the relentless scouring sand, one of them holds the key to their survival – an object hidden in or near water. These individuals are unrelated, of different ages, ethnicities, cultures, and religious beliefs – yet on their quest to discover the object in this hostile world of shifting sand they must work as a family in order to survive. If they fail, they will die horribly, but their immediate goal is to reach the shuck by nightfall or face the terrifying creatures that ravage the desert after dark.

in Fairfax County, Virginia,McKenzie Strathie wakes to rain on her attic window. Her mother calls her to breakfast; the life of an ordinary teen. Yet the previous night she found a sand-lizard in her bed and sand-lizards are not native to Virginia. As her obsession with deserts, weather patterns, big skies and the constant wind-sculpting of dunes consumes her, McKenzie’s sense of reality begins to fracture. Two very different worlds: parallel universes, purgatory – or hell?


This Shelf Indulgence review is very special to me. I met Theo Clare in the late 1990s, when her unpublished debut crime novel was already slated to be a bestseller, and we soon became fast friends. Published at the turn of the millennium, Birdman catapulted her to instant literary stardom, and she went on to pen brilliant, award-winning standalone novels alongside her wildly popular DI Jack Caffery series. WOLF, a TV series based on her Jack Caffery novels, launched on the BBC at the beginning of August, and it’s dark and dangerous fare! Fans will know her as Mo Hayder; to me, she was always Clare. An uncompromising critic of her own work, she would scrap huge tracts of writing, starting over if it didn’t meet her own exacting standards. It’s no wonder her novels make such compulsive reading! The creeping horror in her books, together with her rare knack of sustaining an agonisingly tense narrative, can leave you half-desperate and half-terrified to read on. Sadly, Clare didn’t live to see The Book of Sand published: Motor Neurone Disease cruelly snatched her from us far too soon, but like all of her work, this novel is phenomenally inventive, suspenseful, teeming with complex characters which (love ’em or hate ’em) you really care about.  Some will die, and not all questions will be answered at once – this is after all, the same mind that created the Jack Caffery novels – but before her death, Clare completed three novels and a fourth is in draft outline, so enjoy the first episode knowing that there is more to look forward to from this supremely talented and much-missed writer.

Buy the Book of Sand, by Theo Clare

Order Dead Man Walking, by M.K. Murphy

More details on Dead Man Walking