"The Incident" is a first novel by Kenneth Macleod which explores cause and effect and in particular those moments that, even though we don't know it at the time, can change our lives forever. The central character, Craig, is a student from Helensburgh who, one summer in the late 1980s, takes a vacation job as a lifeguard on a beach belonging to a children's holiday camp on the Baltic coast in northern Germany. We are told on the very first page and on the dust jacket synopsis that two children die on his watch, and that a decade later Craig is still haunted by the ghosts of those children.
A large part of "The Incident" comprises a detailed first person account of a single fateful day, from Craig waking up and commencing his lifeguard duties on the beach until the tragedy occurs.
We are also taken on a number of excursions. In the first we hear the story of Craig's grandfather, who taught him, and many other people, to swim, as a response to his own wartime experiences in the merchant navy. We also hear the remarkable story of one of Craig's colleagues, Gerd, who was recruited by the Stasi, the East German secret police, as an informer before escaping to the west. And we are also taken on a brief excursion back into the central character's childhood, where an incident, possibly even the incident that gives the book its title, takes place on, or perhaps that should be in, Loch Lomond.
But each time we are taken away from the beach in northern Germany, we are sooner or later brought back to it, and to this one single day we know will end in disaster. This serves to give the book a gloomy air of inevitability. You know, very roughly, what is going to happen: you just don't know how. Much more importantly, you don't know why. And as the book progresses the pieces gradually fall into place, often barely noticed, that make tragedy inevitable. Kenneth Macleod's debut novel does not make for happy reading, but it does make for compelling reading