Blasts from the Past: Underground by Tobias Hill (1999)

Cover image for Underground by Tobias HillThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could.

Tobias Hill’s Underground is an unusual one for me. It’s a thriller, not a genre I read much but I have a sentimental attachment to it as one of my first paid commissions was to review it.

In amongst the rush-hour crowds, someone is pushing women into the path of oncoming trains. Casimir watches a security video of one such incident and becomes obsessed with the hunt for the killer. As his search for clues takes him into deserted stations and forgotten tunnels, he encounters strange and disturbing characters who begin to undermine his sense of the Underground as a comforting refuge. In this unlikely setting, he meets a young woman whose past is as disturbed as his own but who offers a chance of hope. Hill skilfully interweaves both the hunt for the murderer and the revelations of Casimir’s past drawing his narratives together into a tense denouement. So atmospheric you can almost taste and smell the hot, dusty gusts of wind as Tube trains arrive and depart.

I’ve read novels by Hill since but none as good as Underground although The Love of Stones came close. Sadly, he died in 2023 at the much too early age of fifty-three.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

22 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: Underground by Tobias Hill (1999)”

  1. Ah. I’ve only attempted one Tobias Hill – What was Promised. And I so little got on with it that I abandoned it long before the end. So – my loss no doubt – I probably won’t try this one.

    1. I suspect it might not even be in print but I couldn’t resist it, particualry as I feel as if I’ve emerged from a long period underground this morning!

  2. I had no idea Tobias Hill has died! How very sad. He was really special to me in my late teens/early 20s. We’re similar in age (he’s a wee bit older) and his poetry spoke to me of a London I knew. which I hadn’t seen represented before.

    I enjoyed his novels but they never had the same magic for me as his poetry. It’s because of him that I started reading contemporary poetry, because we’d never done so at school.

    Funnily enough, I was just thinking of him a couple of days ago and wondering if I’d read his poems the same way, now that I’m much wider read in poetry, and a lot older, it might not have the same resonance for me.

    You’ve inspired me to dig out the volumes and have a read Susan! Very sad news – he was a real talent.

    1. I was shocked when I first heard the news. Such a talented man. He also had a stroke in 2014 which put an end to his writing career, apparently. I hope you enjoy revisiting his poetry. It obviously meant a great deal to you.

  3. Oh I remember reading The Cryptographer with Mr Litlove, though I don’t recall much about it. But the writing was good! This sounds intriguing. Do you think narratives have changed since the turn of the millennium? I do. I was looking at an Andrei Makine novel yesterday and it began with a long first chapter, all atmospheric preamble. Then the story began in Chapter 2 and I thought, he’d never get away with that today. In a way, I’m sorry that authors don’t get the spaciousness in their narratives any more. But perhaps it’s a good thing?

    1. He was a very atmospheric writer as I remember. I hadn’t realised he was a poet until Madame Bibi commented. I’m a pared-back novella fan so less keen of the spacious narrative although, oddly, enough I thought the trend had gone more that way over the last decade or so. I think it works when edited well.

      1. Oh I really like the pared-back style too! I so admire the not-a-word-wasted authors because I’m so wordy. I definitely felt there was a time when books were getting longer, but would you say that was still a thing? (You will know better than me as I’ve not reviewed in ages).

        1. I think it might be. I tend to avoid anything much over 300 pages, with honourable exceptions. Lots of talk of a paper shortage around covid which I thought would make a difference but it seems not.

    1. Thank you. Feel free to join in! I’m usually all about the shiny and new but wanted to remind myself and other readers of some brilliant backlist titles.

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