“Ascent” by Jed Mercurio – review

When I came across the work of Jed Mercurio he was known as John MacUre, writer of the medical drama Cardiac Arrest, which debuted in 1994 but which sadly I ignored, despite its featuring Helex Baxendale, until about a decade later when (lured by Baxendale) I got hold of the boxset and discovered its true brilliance. But I’d thought of Mercurio as much as a whilstle-blower as a writer (he used a pseudonym for Cardiac Arrest because he was still working for the NHS, and it’s a devastating portrait of hospital culture).

Then a few years later the BBC announced his new drama, about investigating corrupt police officers, Line of Duty, which quickly got me hooked. But I hadn’t really thought about what he’d been up to in-between. Turns out there’s a sci-fi series, Invasion: Earth, which I hope to see, as well as a couple of novels: Bodies (later televised) and in 2007 Ascent – the fictional account of the life of Yevgeni Yeremin who becomes a MiG pilot and cosmonaut.

It’s a pacey and readable story, with detailed accounts of flying in the Korean War and the Russian space programme, although it is somewhat brutal and sensationalist and it is hard to develop any empathy for Yeremin, whose drive is clear but whose character is left unexplored and therefore lacks any depth. In many respects it reminded me more of Bodyguard than anything other work I’m familiar with of Mercurio’s, delving more into the trauma the character has experienced and the single-mindedness he exhibits than either the emotional consequences of the former or the desires underlying the latter. Unlike Bodyguard, though, it’s an extremely well-structured narrative with a satisfying conclusion.

Incidentally Mercurio, I discovered, was not just a doctor, but was in the Royal Air Force Medical Branch, so experienced the military as well as medicine before embarking on his career as a television writer and novelist.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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