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Divorcing Jack - Colin Bateman
Member Name: samueltyler
Divorcing Jack - Colin Bateman
Advantages: Funny, dark, intelligent
Disadvantages: Violent, central premise could be stronger
It's probably in everyone's best interests if you start from the beginning from a series of books. This way you get to grow with the characters as they evolve and their lives change. However, reading habits are not always like this and if you are anything like me you end up getting a book out of the Library and not realising until it is too late that you are on Book 8. In the case of the best authors this should not be an issue as they develop their characters within a series of self contained stories; you may miss out on some of the nuances, but overall the story should work. I took this approach to Colin Bateman's 'Dan Starkey' books and read them piecemeal and out of order. Finally, I had read all but one. What should the last book be but 'Divorcing Jack' the character's debut? Would the first book show that Bateman was a skilful writer from the very beginning, or someone that needed to improve?
It's the mid 90s in Northern Ireland and the troubles are still not over; but peace is on the way. With this in mind the government are inviting sympathetic foreign journalists to visit and they need local reporters as chaperones. Some barrel scraping later and Dan Starkey gets the job of showing around an American journalist. Starkey is not the man normally required for this type of job as the writer of a pithy opinion column designed to annoy every one. His home life is not much better when he is thrown out of the house for snogging another woman. With his home life in tatters and a work life way out of his area of understanding Starkey is already on the verge of a nervous breakdown; add the murder of someone close, the accidental death of their mother, the interest of the local IRA and the CIA; you have a recipe for disaster.
Colin Bateman was the author de jour during a short period of the mid 90s; his smartly dark and violent novels made 'Divorcing Jack' a successful book and later film. However, since the heyday his star has waned as only the loyal stuck with him. This is a shame as he has written some of the best comedic crime fiction around for the past 15 years. Not one of his books is poor and his biting sarcasm is more relevant than ever. Therefore, when his latest 'Mystery Man' was chosen for the Richard and Judy book club it was a timely reminder of one of the top authors around who is currently in the best form of his life. It was about time that I went back and read how it all started!
Perhaps it is because I read the books out of order, but 'Divorcing Jack' was a great read, but not quite up to Bateman's best. It felt like a template that would be improved and expanded upon in later novels to much better effect. The story is solid enough and is a funny murder mystery as Starkey stumbles from catastrophe to catastrophe somehow managing to survive long enough to get some answers. For me, the central premise of the book was a little more strained than I am used to from the author and he managed to iron out these flaws later in his career.
Like with the majority of Colin Bateman's novels 'Divorcing Jack' works because the journey is so good, not the conclusion itself. The various adventures are fantastic, funny and very dark. The character of Starkey is in relative infancy here, but already he shows the signs of the man that you love to hate. Starkey is pretty useless when it comes down to it, but his sarcastic nature in front of danger makes you really like him. There is a thin line that needs to be trod when writing an irritating character, Bateman is one of the few authors I have read who has manages to pull it off.
A book written in the 1990s that deals with the terrorist issues of Northern Ireland should feel dated. It is credit to Bateman that this is not the case as although the book is almost 15 years old it still feels as fresh as ever. This is because Dan Starkey is such an enjoyable character to read about and his exploits are amusing no matter the period. I believe that the cynical edge that Bateman brings to his work is more relevant now than it was even then. 'Divorcing Jack' is not the best in the series, but is a good introduction to Starkey and the world he inhabits. As a template for what is to come all the elements are there, with a little more polish Bateman was primed for writing some of the best comedic crime fiction of the past 10 years.
Author: Colin Bateman
Price: Amazon uk - £9.48
Play - £10
Summary: Dan Starkey at the beginning - what a journey to go