Review – The Calculations of Rational Men by Daniel Godfrey

Posted: September 23, 2022 in Horror, Thriller
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A tightly written and intense thriller, The Calculations of Rational Men churns and boils with hidden agendas and unreliable narratives until it reaches its explosive conclusion. Cleverly crafted and fast paced, it’s a lean, engrossing read.

An alternative historical thriller, The Calculations of Rational Men bounces between two timelines: the first set in 1962, mere months after the Cuban Missile crisis; the second in 2017 featuring Enola, a young, reclusive woman, after the death of her mother. Yet, both perspectives strain between objectivity and unreliability as each lead character conceals and slowly reveals certain truths.

For Dr Joe Marr, an inmate at The Queen’s Bench, the Cold War of the 60’s becomes very real when, early one morning, he and hundreds of other prisoners are shepherded down into a bunker beneath their cells. Crammed inside large rooms, fifty to a cell, and sharing one chemical toilet, it quickly becomes apparent that the situation is dire. Fortunately for Marr, his skill as a doctor is required, allowing him insight and relative freedom in the cramped and claustrophobic fallout shelter. With rations of water and crackers at a minimum and soldiers overseeing the operation to wait out the immediate radiation, Marr realises that Britain, and perhaps the world, has destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Enola is suffering her own realisations when a young man at her mother’s funeral reveals that she was German by birth. Having lived most of her life in a bunker and sheltered from the outside world, Enola grasps how little her mother had told her, only really impressing upon her the devastation of nuclear war and the imperative to survive. Armed with her new knowledge, Enola sets about discovering what she can about her mother and her grandparents only to uncover a terrifying truth.

Concentrating on the growing tensions in the underground bunker, The Calculations of Rational Men cleverly captures the terror and emotional devastation of surviving a thermonuclear war. As relations between the prison authorities and the military command become stretched and rations quickly dwindle, the futility of the situation begins to take its toll, especially on the prisoners locked in their dorms. Dehydrated and hungry, and starved of information, men quickly begin to scheme, fracturing the relative safety of the bunker. And Marr, caught between the command structure and his fellow inmates, perfectly captures man’s intrinsic nature.

Self preservation clashes against selfishness in the confines of the shelter, revealing much about human nature and social structures especially in the post WWII atmosphere of Britain. Men, military or criminal who had seen and experienced so much horror, now facing an even greater and final terror, display the true character of humanity facing an untenable situation. Yet, it is the big reveal in the final chapters that shines a light on the underbelly of social government and the amorality of its ideals.

The Calculations of Rational Men is an astounding read. Morally grey and questionable characters, made all the more real by the awful choices they’re forced to make, dovetail perfectly with a claustrophobic atmosphere to produce a fast, intriguing thriller. Considered, calculated and brutal, this is a novel that truly captures the imagination.

Review copy

Independently published


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