For those who like dark, adult mystery thrillers with great twists and turns, Billy Christ is a must-read. It’s a unique, fast-paced coming-of-age page-turner, set in the turbulent 1970s and written as a fictional memoir, detailing the life of a smart boy named Billy, who believes he’s been chosen by God to be the next Christ.
The novel centers around Billy’s disturbing obsessions, mental rituals and desire to punish himself for his impure thoughts, namely by spending time in a secret clearing making sacrifices to God under the watchful gaze of his personal guardian angel. But his path from adolescence into adulthood is far from smooth. Although in some spheres of his life, he can function like a normal human being (obtaining a Cambridge degree, for instance), his route is mostly dark, twisted and—somewhat inevitably—sinful, comprising madness, sex and murder.
Bestselling author Michael Cameron has created some wonderful characters, as you would expect from someone who was a scriptwiter for hit TV shows such as The Bill and Boon. First, there’s the obnoxious gang of bullies at Billy’s Roman Catholic all-boys prep school, who form much of the backdrop. Then there’s the clergy, namely Father Rogers, who teaches Latin and Maths and has ‘perfected the art of making the boys feel terrified’.
The book also follows a girl called Diana, who causes Billy to question his own life and beliefs, and also her mother, Mrs Watson, who Billy falls in love with upon first sight and continues to fantasize about well into adulthood.
We learn about the sensible Diana through her diary entries – she is intrigued by Billy but betrays him with another boy. When she tries to make amends, however, it only makes things worse. Eventually, Diana’s mother also gets a voice through the audio tapes she makes for her psychiatrist.
Fundamentally, the book is incredibly well-written, which means that even as Billy spirals off out of control, becoming increasingly incapable of separating fantasy from reality, it is impossible for readers to not end up rooting for him or, at the very least, caring about what happens to him.
But it’s the plot that’s the real winner in this novel. Half way through, the pages turn faster and faster and by the end, you have a much clearer picture of why Billy is the way he is. Using Billy as the main, unreliable narrator helps keep you guessing until the end, and the last few pages reveal a brilliant twist that will enthral and entertain and keep you on the edge of your seat.
The pop culture references to the '70s also add to the storyline, providing a nostalgic and familiar backdrop. In short, this is a novel filled with conflict and horrors. It’s another great read by a great writer.