Martin MacInnes - offers up 29 explanations as to what happened to Carlos. They range from the possible to the absurd. The last one reads: “Carlos isn’t here. Carlos isn’t gone. This isn’t everything. This is a brief light.”

Infinite Ground A52 front-2
Martin MacInnes, Infinite GroundAtlantic Books, 2016.

“Stunning—a totally original, surreal mystery shot through with hints of the best of César Aira, Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, and Julio Cortázar. Smart, clever, and honest. I doubt you’ve read anything quite like it.” —Jeff VanderMeer

Carlos has disappeared. A retired inspector takes the case, but what should be a routine investigation becomes something strange, even sinister. As the inspector relives and retraces the missing man's footsteps, the trail leads him away from the city sprawl and deep into the country's rainforest interior, where he encounters both horror and more

On a sweltering summer night at a restaurant in an unnamed Latin American city, a man at a family dinner gets up from the table to go to the restroom . . . and never comes back. He was acting normal, say family members. None of the waiters or other customers saw him leave.
A semi-retired detective takes the case, but what should be a routine investigation becomes something strange, intangible, even sinister. The corporation for which the missing man worked seems to be a front for something else; the staff describes their colleague as having suffered alarming, shifting physical symptoms; a forensic scientist examining his office uncovers evidence of curious microorganisms.
As the detective relives and retraces the man’s footsteps, the trail leads him away from the city sprawl and deep into the country’s rainforest interior . . . where, amidst the overwhelming horrors and wonders of the natural world, a chilling police procedural explodes into a dislocating investigation into the nature of reality.

An electrifying piece of work: strange, terrifying, riveting, and written with scintillating intelligence. In its thinking about the porosity between the human and the non-human, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Ballard, Lem, VanderMeer, Tom McCarthy. — Neel Mukherjee

Brimming with with strong, startling ideas… A curious and often remarkable book –Liam Hess

A novel of intelligence, grace, cunning and warped imagination, one that melds and sometimes clashes styles and influences to create something original and unsettling. It is a bravura performance, and one that announces Martin MacInnes as one of our most exciting new voices.  –Stuart Evers

Labyrinthine, beautifully written and teeming with ideas about fiction and reality that linger long in the mind… A frighteningly good debut novel. –Lee Rourke
A talent of the first rank… We want to be informed and entertained, I might also say, provoked and enlarged, and Martin MacInnes delivers on all fronts with writing of genuine bravura and originality. –Christopher Potter

This is the work of a most singular and inventive mind, matched by writing with real flair and clarity. It is a book alive with ideas and cock-eyed intelligence, brimming with passages of genuine brilliance. Infinite Ground does that magical thing that only the very best novels do: it makes you see the world afresh. Dazzling stuff. –Graeme Macrae Burnet

A surreal crime mystery at one level and at another a profoundly serious exploration of the fragility and isolation of modern life. — Saltire Literary Awards panel

Towards the end of this impressive and finely textured debut, there is a chapter entitled “What Happened to Carlos – Suspicions, Rumours, Links”. This is the only named chapter and it lists a series of variations related to the disappearance of the novel’s missing person – 29-year-old Carlos. These range from Carlos not being Carlos, to Carlos never having disappeared at all, or Carlos being the victim of a “sudden and giant molecular distortion”. The final speculation is No 29: “Carlos isn’t here. Carlos isn’t gone. This isn’t everything. This is a brief light.”
Of course, the list is no more or less of an account of Carlos’s disappearance than fiction itself accounts for reality. And, in a sense, that is the point; Infinite Ground takes place in an unnamed South American country, and Martin MacInnes’s first novel is deep in sub-Borgesian territory. This is fiction as a metaphorical labyrinth of the mind – wherein what happens may or may not have actually occurred; wherein experience and imaginings are indistinguishable; and everything is equally true and untrue.The opening citation, meanwhile, is from The Passion According to GH – the 1964 novel by the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, written in the form of a nightmarish monologue detailing an existential crisis following the accidental crushing of a cockroach. (The link back to Kafka is more than merely entomological.) Foremost among MacInnes’s subjects – thus we glean – are the fractured nature of consciousness and the fabric of reality itself.
Ostensibly, though, Infinite Ground is about an unnamed inspector trying to find Carlos by way of interviews and crime scene reconstructions. And for a while, MacInnes somewhat craftily benefits from the plot-pull of this setup. But if the inspector is the protagonist circling Carlos’s central absence, then “Suspicion, Rumour, Link” No 5 warns that the investigation might well be no more than “an indulgent and morbid fantasy created by a man in middle age in grief for his dead wife”. Another way to read this book is as a meditation on the nature of the human psyche under the intense pressure of loss and isolation.

Twenty years ago, this review would, by now, have used the word “postmodern”. And certainly, there are meta- and micro-games afoot. At roughly the midpoint of the narrative, the inspector gets lost in the unnamed city and finds himself in an “excited jostle” of people circling some incident. But “he hadn’t even noticed he was in the middle of it … [he] had passed right through it and missed his chance, seeing and learning nothing”.
Similarly, the inspector has “a problem of perception”. He starts to believe that his dreams of being in a forest, the “intensity of his exertions” there, might explain everything else. “He played with the old childish idea that the relationship between dreaming and waking life should be inverted, the experience of the former comprising the more significant period.” The last section of the novel, part three, is duly called “The Forest”, and its dream-like lyricism is by far the best writing in the book.
Throughout, MacInnes’s prose demeanour is slightly antiquarian – people “purport” and “assign … temporary monikers”. In the forest, while others are occupied with cameras, the inspector’s “leather pouch” contains “his own set of optical lenses”. This sets up a tone that creates a necessary out-of-time feel; but that sometimes chafes against modernity so that, for example, MacInnes has to clumsily append “and he didn’t have his phone” to an explanation of why the inspector cannot find the address of a hospital.
In terms of word selection, however, MacInnes is clearly a serious artist. There is a skilful and delicate cadence to many of the paragraphs. Images are novel and precise. The jungle air is “antic” with mosquitoes. The inspector’s forest tour group lacks the “shrill buoyancy” normally associated with such parties. A mechanic, Miguel, “threaded wire while he talked, his words small and conservative next to the fluency of his hands”.
Occasionally, MacInnes pushes too far, perhaps: “The words were mute, like the hummed melodies remaining in the ground surfaces of nightmare-weathered teeth.” But even this image is interesting and – on closer reading – a restatement of his main theme, if slightly off.
On the broadest point – to this reader’s mind at least – the novel feels more like a recapitulation of the literary ideas of its progenitors than a pushing forward. All the same, MacInnes often renders familiar existential observations afresh – not least on the nature of modern office work: “The meaning of [Carlos’s] work was concentrated in its finishing. What he was doing he was doing so that it could no longer be done.” And there are several moments of real and well-earned profundity – after a boat had been lost at sea, one character explains to the inspector, local people would wait on the beach; which was “more than madness and consolation … Because the information that expressed the lives came originally from the sea, where it was now deposited. It is still there.” - Edward Docx

Infinite Ground, Martin MacInnes’s strange, cerebral and incredibly assured debut novel, begins like a standard police procedural, a routine mystery. At the height of an intense heatwave a man meets his family for a reunion in a restaurant. Halfway through the meal he vanishes. A former inspector is roused from retirement and tasked with tracking him down. So far, so straightforward.
However, instead of captivating the reader by upping the pace and deploying the usual thrillerish twists and turns, MacInnes confounds by gradually turning a disappearance into a reality-warping puzzle and a police investigation into a metaphysical inquiry.
“Carlos had gone to the bathroom,” he writes, “and then to all intents and purposes he had stopped existing.”
As the unnamed inspector gets to work in an unnamed South American country, the oddities mount up. The company Carlos worked for – also nameless – employs “outside performers” to stand in for real staff members, and has “contingency sites” outside the city to which workers can relocate in an emergency or “post-disaster”. The woman claiming to be Carlos’s mother admits to being an imposter.
After weighing up two plausible theories – Carlos was kidnapped; Carlos was involved in fraud and fled – the inspector learns from forensic expert Isabella that Carlos was ill and wasting away. Suddenly fearing that he too has become infected by something in the victim’s office, and believing that locating Carlos means finding an antidote, the inspector doubles his efforts and swaps his search of the city for a sweep of the country’s vast forest.
We arrive at MacInnes’s last section wondering if the inspector has reached his journey’s end by checking into the Hotel Terminación, or if he can still pick up the trail by veering off the beaten track into an alien and hostile environment.
MacInnes is Scottish but his setting and bouts of weirdness put us in mind of South American authors. We get the dark tones and psychological struggle of Ernesto Sábato, the vertigo-inducing flights of fancy of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, and the queasy atmosphere and maddening open-endedness of Roberto Bolaño.
Despite its surreal content, the novel unfolds by way of conventional storytelling – chapters, dialogue, streamlined prose, even-length sentences – and this blend of eccentricity, familiarity and clarity recalls the Argentine writer César Aira.
MacInnes’s original voice can still be heard, both in the main narrative and the sections that interlard it – case notes on the forest, forensic reports, hallucinatory dreams, excerpts from a book on tribes – and it always speaks with confidence.
All that is lacking, for this reader at least, is a smattering of humour. Missing men, virulent infections and sinister landscapes needn’t be all doom and gloom.
MacInnes makes us scratch our heads and lose our purchase, but being baffled is half the fun. The inspector doesn’t just retrace Carlos’s footsteps, he attempts to reconstruct him in a duplicate office. A killer he locked up for scalping his victims disappears in prison.
In time, MacInnes’s novel starts to resemble Carlos’s shape-shifting corporation – “priding itself on innovation and experimentation, alert to the power of appearances”.
As we near the end and the inspector is drawn deeper into the heart of darkness of the rainforest interior, we come upon a section called Suspicions, Rumours, Links which offers up 29 explanations as to what happened to Carlos. They range from the possible to the absurd. The last one reads: “Carlos isn’t here. Carlos isn’t gone. This isn’t everything. This is a brief light.”
Complex but rewarding, Infinite Ground owns up to being a book of multiple fates, boundless interpretations, numerous planes of reality. - Malcolm Forbes The National 

Reviews: Literary Review   Scotsman   ASLS The Skinny    Spectator       TLS    Nina Allen (Shadow Clarke Shortlist) Maureen Kincaid Speller (Shadow Clarke Shortlist) Megan AM (Shadow Clarke Shortlist) Alluvium Journal   Scottish Review    Lonesome Reader    Bookspume    For the Joy of Reading   Necessary Fiction  Richard W Strachan