Underneath by Michael Cargill Review 4/5

Overall Impression: GUnderneath by Michael Cargillripping, hilarious, disturbing. The story of a psychologically unstable individual.

This was a thrilling and extremely entertaining book. I have been looking forward to reading Underneath for some time. Michael Cargill was the first indie author I ever read, his short story collection Shades of Grey was intriguing and had a very distinctive narrative voice so I was looking forward to seeing what he would come up with next! Underneath not only met my expectations but exceeded them, the author’s writing has improved dramatically since his last book and it is so great to see the evolution of someone’s skill in motion. 🙂
Underneath was offered to me in exchange for an author interview, book giveaway and an honest review.

Look at the person sitting just across from you. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a loved one, a friend, or a complete stranger.
Now look at their face. Are they happy? Are they sad? Or are they angry? Can you even tell?
How well do you actually know the people closest to you?
Have you ever seen the real person that lies just underneath what you see…?

The story Underneath follows a disturbed man named Hugh with a love for squirrels and garlic flavouring. He is antisocial, violent and a complete and utter sociopath with no regard for those around him. In the past he has made attempts to take part in society with regular office jobs and participating in clubs, but it is never long before the cracks in his mask begin to show and those around him see the terrifying truth of what lies underneath. So when he sets his eyes on a beautiful girl on the train, who knows what disaster could ensue?
Meanwhile two police officers Robert and Clare spend their days patrolling and sorting out petty crime, it is only a matter of time before their paths cross with Hugh. The question is, who will come out on top?

I was totally hooked by Underneath from the very first page! Cargill managed to balance the line between sinister, entertaining and humorous very well. The first scene features Hugh walking around a park and his thought processes were so bizarre and frank that I was thrown, and from that moment on I had to keep reading. I was drawn in once again by the strong narrative voice which was a mixture of cynicism, humour and insight. It could be argued that Underneath dips slightly into satire at points with its comments on society and the way it pokes fun at its characters.
There may not be any super fancy sentence structures or massive words but for this sort of novella it is not needed. The writing pace is snappy and there were some brilliant descriptions, especially the ones of food (seriously, THEY MADE ME HUNGRYYYYY) and the imagery. This was one I particularly liked:

‘Discovering the body of someone who has decided to hang themselves was always a sight for sore eyes. Sometimes they might have been hanging there for a week or more, their entire face bruised and discoloured like a Picasso painting.’

I did feel that some sentences were awkwardly phrased and could have been improved. A few sections became repetitive at times, for instance there was one big paragraph where  every sentence began with the word ‘he’ which could have been enhanced by using some different synonyms, restructuring the sentences so they varied a little more or just leaving some ‘he’s’ out, but these kinds of issues were in the minority as most of the prose flowed smoothly! Although it may seem like I took a while to finish Underneath, this was simply because of the format (I don’t have a Kindle so I use my PC) but when I did get the opportunity to read it I didn’t want to stop because I was so immersed in the story, I finished it in three sessions.

The plot was great; there may not be any immediate action at the start of the story but there is definitely enough to reel you in, small incidents occur that make the reader curious about the mysterious main character Hugh and I loved how the further you got through the novella the more subtly serious the incidents got until they had escalated to dangerous proportions. Switching between Hugh and the two police officers perspectives was a clever idea and broke up the story well preventing the narrative from becoming repetitive. I thought it was a fun idea the way the author wrote the story so that the two groups just kept missing each other, sometimes by a matter of minutes without either party having a clue. I love it when storylines collide like that! For some readers the plot could be considered flimsy as it isn’t that complex, but I feel it works and the real reason to read this book lies with the fascinating characters, so I didn’t find this to be an issue.
I also loved how realistic the plot felt, I can imagine two police officers searching for a psychologically challenged individual out there right now and I think the little tidbits of social commentary on the UK police force really added to this. The comments on sexism and the misconception of race being linked to higher and lower crime rates were thoughtful without going overboard.

Hugh’s character is by far the most compelling aspect of this story. It would have been easy to just do a big info dump at the beginning explaining all his weird traits but Cargill is smart enough to make the reader work for it, slowly adding multiple layers. For instance, I loved his weird habit of picking up useless objects like some plastic straws, then half an hour later realising how useless they were, chucking them over his shoulder and carrying on, it was a great way of portraying how quickly his mood could change. We are never told exactly what is wrong with Hugh, he’s definitely a sociopath but there are some other factors like post-traumatic stress in there too and I liked the fact that we were never told his exact issue, it leaves the interpretation up to the reader and makes him more of an enigma.
The two police officers Clare and Robert were great; Robert’s supposed inability to go without food or tea for longer than an hour was hilarious and took the police doughnut stereotype to a whole new level, and I loved that Clare one of the only females in the story was the best in her police fitness training class and often shown to be in more control than some of the male officers (you go gurrrrrrl). The banter between the two of them was a lot of fun. Even some of the minor characters were hilarious.
The only critique I really have is that all of the characters had the exact same sense of humour, the mother of a druggy teen, the police officers and the sociopath while feeling like separate characters laughed and spouted the same cynical and crude type jokes as all the others, and this made them feel a little less well rounded.

I would recommend this book to anyone 16+ who likes crude humour (although I’m not a big fan usually but I still really like Cargill’s work), trying to work out the logic of bizarre and disturbed characters and those who enjoy thrillers. This is a great story to pick up for a quick, enjoyable read. 🙂

Want to know more about the author? Don’t forget to check out my interviews with Michael Cargill here and here or visit his very own WordPress space!

Writing Style: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 5/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yup, yup, yup. 🙂

Overall 4/5

Image Sources:
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15709348-underneath

33 thoughts on “Underneath by Michael Cargill Review 4/5

  1. Glad it was a good read!
    While Cargill and I don’t follow each other, we move in some of the same blog circles, and I’ve always enjoyed reading his comments.
    Perhaps I’ll check this one out.

    • See, I thought it was just my imagination that you were following me around. I often stalk Becky on Goodreads, but having someone do it to me is a bit weird.

      If you’re familiar with torrents you’ll find links on my blog to some that contain all of my books.

    • Me too! It’s always a worry before reading when you know the author that you may not like the story.
      Haha small world huh? He definitely leaves some great comments, they usually make me chuckle. Hope you decide to give it a go and sorry for the delay in replying! 🙂

  2. Pow! I’ve been dying to read your review ever since this appeared on your currently reading list. I read it three times before commenting.

    I was relieved to see you use the word ‘sociopath’ when describing Hugh, as that was what I was aiming for. When I looked it up on Wikipedia, one of the traits was that they’re impulsive and don’t really plan things – I was always worried about whether the odd things that Hugh did would make sense like that.

    And Clare is a top, top girl.

    It’s nice to hear someone say that my writing has improved. I’ve updated Shades of Grey a few times now and it’s annoying how clumsy it feels in places. It’s far better now than when you read it, but I still find it frustrating to go through.

    Anyway, thanks for the review and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • Haha three times wow, I hope it was worth the wait anyway. 🙂

      Yeah I thought definitely sociopath or psychopath (mainly because I couldn’t remember the difference between the two) so I looked up the traits to double check. I think if you have the knowledge of what a sociopath is it is reasonably obvious, but if you don’t you may be left wondering (maybe bipolar, ADHD, childhood trauma or a combination etc because these are more well known disorders). But as I said, I liked that you didn’t at any point say it but instead left it to the reader to work out!

      Yes it sure has, from Shades of Grey you can really tell the difference so it’s great to see. 🙂

      No problem!

  3. Great work, Mchael, great review Becky! This has been lurking like a white-masked Halloween killer on my TBR for a while, and I’ve been dying to know what you thought of it. Sounds like a blast.

  4. It’s a good thing you enjoyed this one Becky! I’ve seen a few, okay maybe not a few, quite a lot of Cargill’s comments on your posts. I think we share a common trait in enjoying the odd snoop on your blog… 😉 I’ve not read any of his works myself, but you recommend it so highly I might have to look into it. Great review as per.

  5. Your novel sounds exciting Michael. Like Beckster I don’t own a Kindle but when I do eventually get one, I’ll keep a reminder to buy this. I’m a sucker for crude humour! 😀

    PS. Absolutely luuurve the cover! Simple yet so effective 🙂

      • Paying an artist to create a unique cover is quite expensive, so I just buy the rights to an image from a website called iStock. I then crop it to the right size, bung the text on it myself, and that’s it!

        Actually finding the image I want can be a pain, and because I’m only buying the rights to use the image – rather than buying the image itself – there is the risk of my front cover being almost identical to someone else’s!

        I’m quite the skinflint, so I go with the cheaper option every time.

      • Ohh right that’s really interesting, I’d been meaning to ask you for a while because they’re usually good and sum up your books well. I’ve never heard of iStock, I’ll have to have a SNOOP, lol!

        Ohh I totally approve, spending money is painful…unless it’s on books.

    • Haha I’m glad you don’t own one either Nisha, at least I’m not the only one stuck in the stone-age, LOL! 🙂 I just refuse to get one because I hate reading off a screen, (even if it’s not supposed to look like a screen but it still does) so why would I pay lots of money for something I don’t want out of convenience? 😛 Really? Who knew!

      I love the cover too, as you say it’s simple but works so well. 🙂

      • I’m the same, I hate reading off a screen too. HATE it. I only want to get one because I think it might help with research and accessibility to non-fiction books. I would never use it to read a novel though. Not the same as having a proper book in your hands 🙂

    • Sorry that comment I made sounded all wrong. Didn’t mean to contradict myself. What I meant to say was I would never buy an E-reader for the sole purpose of reading novels. I prefer a hard copy in my hands. However I have so many author friends who have books (not available in hardback) I want to read that it would only be feasible for me to download it on Kindle. You got to roll with the technology sometimes, I guess… 🙂

      • Haha no worries! I know what you mean, there are becoming more and more books that you can only access by eBooks which is very annoying. Whenever I review or get asked to review any indie author books they rarely have a paperback format and it is better to use eBooks too because you don’t have to give out an address! I just hate not reading from a normal book though, I find it painful. But eBooks have also made a lot of interesting and positive changes in the book world too. 🙂
        Bah, never. Looooool. 😛

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