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Ken Nott is a successful radio DJ in London. Of Scottish origins, he hosts one of those radio talk shows in which people phone in and have a rant about various topics and Ken and his producer Phil take the Mickey. Divorced and in his thirties, Ken has a girlfriend, lots of drinking partners and is generally happy with his life. Until, that is, Celia enters comes on the scene. He meets her at a party and immediately falls for her, as she appears to do him. The only thing is though, that she is married to a London gang boss. They agree to meet in secret for sex in various hotels in London. This is very risky, as Celia's husband is quite a dangerous man, and not the sort of person you cross.
One evening when Ken is out with his drinking partners, he goes home with a lady he picks up, only to realise (whilst in the taxi) she has tried to drug him and he is being kidnapped. He manages to get away, but starts becoming extremely paranoid. He almost buys himself a gun, this paranoia is so tense. He feels that Celia's husband set him up, but she assures him that he knows nothing of their affair.
As a sub plot, Ken has been invited onto a TV talk show to talk to a Nazi who has theories as to how so many Jews were never actually killed. Ken has a few tricks up his sleeve and intends to tell this nazi what he thinks of such assumptions - but I won't let you know what he does to the nazi...
Then when Ken's girlfriend ends their relationship, and other things start to happen around him, he gets bladdered and leaves a message on Celia's home phone declaring his love for her. The next day he realises what he has done and he wonders what the hell he is going to do to save his skin!
The above (without giving too much of the 'fun' away) is the basic plot to this 2002 book by Scottish author Iain Banks. Not much plot, but then that is not really what this book is about. The 'plot' is interceded with rants. Ken Nott's rants. Or should that be Mr Banks' rants? The character is a Chris Moyles type of DJ, full of himself and full of how everything is wrong and how things should be. He discusses politics, religion - oh, just about everything - not only during his shows, but to friends, us the reader and anyone who will listen. - and the reader feels that these are the author's theories. Then again I might be wrong.
Although you cannot fault his style of writing, you can his topic. It is written very well, but what is told is not too interesting. This is a shame because Iain Banks has written some very good books in the past and he is one of my favourite writers. Some of you might have heard of his other books, such as 'The Crow Road' (which was made into a TV series), 'Whit', and his controversial debut 'The Wasp Factory.'
'Dead Air' is not a REALLY bad book, it is just a BIG let down.
What let's this book down is the rants, the weak plot and the fact that you just don't like Ken Nott... at all! Thankfully this was just a temporary glitch, as the next novels were much better...
This review also appears on Ciao UK by me as Borg...
Ken Nott, London's most self-important radio show blabbermouth is in trouble. Forced to face his bosses to have his knuckles rapped, his producer and good friend Phil comes up with the sparkling idea of balancing his latest controversy with a special television appearance on a soon-to-be-aired current affairs series. Ken immediately comes up with a great idea for making his very special mark on proceedings, and chapter two of Dead Air leaves us in suspense as to what that idea is. The point of this balance and controversy is that he might have appeared to be lamming into the Muslim community. He is even closer than usual to being dragged over hot coals because chapter one ended, after a most unusual wedding party, with the attacks on the Twin Towers, on 9/11. The point of theediscerning starting at the second chapter and then proceeding to the first is to help forewarn you that there is a wide spread of flash-backs in this novel. While the first two chapters appear to have been a few months into the recent past, we then travel further back in time in stages to explore the back-story of Ken and the other main characters. Principal among these may, or may not, be Celia, a chocolate-skinned beauty he has been sleeping with on most unusual terms. She is married to one of London's biggest of Mister Bigs, for one, therefore the most often they can get together is with a fortnightly afternoon, arranged surreptitiously, in a posh London hotel suite. Also of interest is Ed, a black friend who has a lot to say on matters personal and public, and whose patois is easily fun to take the rise out of should you dare to read his dialogue aloud. But apart from Phil, and Ed, and another best friend, the main characters are female. Including the wife of said best friend, who Ken once slept with, Ken's ex, who he occasionally sleeps with, his current partner, who he... Ken himself is a very well-defined character. We need
a likeable, interesting first person narrator for a novel of this length, and for the most part we have one. We certainly spend a lot of time in his company, as there is a lot of dialogue with Ken and A N Other where (mostly) Ken passes comment on the state of the nation, from Scottish football to why Land Rovers are the ideal vehicles for London. Reader beware, there is a lot of this dialogue. A heck of a lot contains sense, but also a lot contains irony. Be warned before you discuss it amongst yourselves, lest you haven't worked out which is which? A hint ~ the dialogue about Paul Verhoeven, dear ideal reader, on page 231, is irony ~ against the very people who think it safe to have ironical conversations about Paul Verhoeven. Isn' this complex?! And if you still feel there is no irony involved here, take a look at our hero's name again. Ken Nott (which is actually only his professional name) is patently, to a Scottish writer, shorthand for Not Understanding. If that conversational overload doesn't come across as a flaw to you, another minor quibble might. There is a sense, at the beginning at least, that Banks is trying too hard to be cosmopolitan with this novel. There is a veritable plethora of races and colours throughout, from the Scandinavian guy no-one wants to sit down with, to Celia, to the Jewish ex, to the many hues and origins mentioned in the opening part about the party. This gets replaced by Banks seeming to mention as many alternatives for a spliff as he can, although this bit is leavened by the punchline being a great one about Moby. You then get a sense of someone trying too hard on the research as the parade of posh hotels goes past, but enough of the faults of the writing, we need to look at more of what is written about. Well, Ken and his various friends and their opinions provide a great way to look at London, and to a lesser extent the UK, and to a lesser extent still, the w
orld, after 9/11. They pass comment on the glaring looks passed from commuter to package-carrying commuter on the tube, he mentions the anthrax searches carried out in the radio station's post room, and so on. And a lot of comment is made about many other subjects, Ken being rather a motor-mouth, so we can't actually be sure how relevant any of the subjects or events are going to be. The spread of back-story of how Ken got to be in the position he is currently narrating from is all well and good, and entertaining enough, but it does not prepare you for the lurch, which might be too great, into thriller mode, with the arrival of Raine (sorry, "Raine"). This is a novel where global threats collide with Ken's private ones. You will have to wait to find out what the personal threat entails to Ken, as the thriller element is rather light, all being told, and it would be very easy to say too much about things. This is never going to be the main point of the book, however, as Iain Banks has used this character of Ken to help him create a State of the Nation book. Mostly, of course, these books are far too huge and fat American ones, but here this slightly low-key medium-sized one will more than suffice. There must have been several drafts of novels by lesser writers with a poor story attached for little reason to 9/11, as The 25th Hour in the cinemas helped show. Here the amalgamation is rather a success, as one is very often reminded of what the world is like both before and after the attacks, and with the nature of Ken's work we see how problematic it might be to have any strong opinion, of whatever colour, after them. As the world seems to bury itself into more trouble, it is good to see the excellent characterisation Ken is provided with confront one (or more) personal problems. It is hard to see how Iain Banks (and his shadow twin, Iain M Banks) have created twenty decent-sized books bet
ween them in less than 20 years. Banks has grown from slim, dark novels that have semblances to one genre or another, to much fatter books, which again have genre influences. At the same time it must be said he has grown into one of the nation's more popular and respected authors. It is worth catching this writer here at least with that most problematic of stylistic conceits ~ the two-word chapter. He handles it well. So, theediscerning leaves you hopefully on tenterhooks as to what that thriller element is regarding, what the plans for the TV appearance are, what the two-word chapter entails, and hopefully more. He still would like to quibble about the use of the word ass when a**e is meant, especially as at the last try Ken gets it right. But on the whole theediscerning would like to recommend this book. It is not *about* 9/11 enough for that to put you off, were you to think along those lines. It is not a hard, gritty thriller, should you have encountered that pigeon-holing. At 430 pages it is a bit of a door-stopper, but the nigh-perfect use of Ken's voice to guide us through the travails of this typical male are for the main part entertaining. It loses marks for not perhaps having as much humour as possible (or instead a lot theediscerning just plain missed), the jump into thriller lite, and the longeurs sometimes present when too much is dependent on dialogue, but sustains four stars just as easily as Banks has sustained the voice of Ken, cussing and drug use and all. Worth a trial at least.