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Novel set in England (the beau monde in Buckinghamshire)

28th July 2014

The Deaths by Mark Lawson, dark murder novel set in England (Buckinghamshire).

High living in Buckinghamshire. But the facade is fragile and behind the moneyed masses – for some – are stories of despair and disintegration.

IMG_2064Jason, the delivery driver for CapuccinGo (otherwise Nespresso I would guess) is on his rounds delivering the rainbow-coded coffee capsules to his rich punters. But he discovers a murderous rampage at one of the big 4 houses central to the narrative. The house is quiet, the dogs are dead. What further gruesome murders might there there be in one of the “best fuck-off houses in Bucks”?

Going backwards in time this is the story leading up to the murders in this mansion. Four couples – or, a ‘ruck of chums’ – have forged their lives together as a friendship group, based on acquisition of wealth. Everything is possible but the creeping and pernicious disintegration for some within the group has started. This is England in the noughties where the bankers have raked in a fortune but society is teetering – and so are some of the richer echelons. It is no longer Waitrose for some, but Aldi and Lidl and, oh dear, the Pound Shop.

This is indeed very much a social satire of the upper middle classes where the players are an easy target for parody. The Financial Times would have it that we can care about the characters – and I did want to because it is all too easy to hack away at the stereotypes; but I didn’t. As people they were pretty much interchangeable, but perhaps the author intended this with their braying voices and Puffa jackets and scant regard for others. I had real trouble distinguishing between them all for a start and trying to get all my ducks in a row with who said what to whom, was a taxing task (but here’s a quick summary: Jonny is with Libby, Max with Jenno, Simon belongs with Tasha, and Emily (the nice one) is with Tom – once I got a grip on the dynamics, the story began to settle, but it was a struggle!).

So stereotypes aside, the author has a fabulous eye for detail and can string the most random observations together in a reasonably cohesive way. He must spend his life noting the interchanges and dynamics around him in his everyday life; and he does superb job of relaying them to his readers. But this is not a novel for everyone. It relies heavily on in-speak and cultural idioms that keep you on your toes (and leave you flummoxed if you have no idea what he is writing about). From stubble nuts (hmm) to the FT pink ink, or the “FD Stuart thing” to striping and blue-chip chocolate bars with limited Easter and Christmas specials. And what, pray, is a cuddy-wifter (there is no helpful glossary, so perhaps in the next edition that might be a consideration?). Now I know I have taken these examples out of context but even in the context I could feel my brain working overtime to UNDERSTAND. “Jellyfish nipples” now there is an image that is haunting but also just plain weird. And if you are not up to speed on the latest technology, forget it.

This is a very readable book, in the main, for the clever and astute prose, though it can get a little too clever at times. It captures the upper middle classes with their Hugos, Tillys, and Plums (names either of children or dogs, I can’t remember) and the burgeoning fragility behind the wealth, and the brash self regard, all set in fictional Middlebury, Bucks. It is all, however, rather depressing.

In terms of TripFiction the location is all rolling landscapes, and winter yomps (with a brief foray to Marrakesh) but you wouldn’t buy it for a real sense of place. You would, however,  buy it for a peep inside the British upper middle class. But you might recoil at what you find!

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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