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Divorcing Jack - Colin Bateman
Member Name: hugon
Divorcing Jack - Colin Bateman
Date: 22/06/01, updated on 22/06/01 (89 review reads)
Advantages: Funny, Fast paced, Easy to put down and pick up again
Divorcing Jack is the first book to introduce us to Dan Starkey, Belfast journalist and jack the lad, who has a rather dangerous habit of getting involved in sticky situations involving some of Northern Ireland’s less savoury paramilitaries. Recently I bought Shooting Sean, the latest book in the series, and enjoyed it so much that I had to go back to the start to find out what happened at the start. You might have seen the film – I haven’t, so I can’t comment on how similar or different this book is to the film.
The book is more centred on Belfast and Northern Ireland than Shooting Sean, which took in Amsterdam and Cannes as well. Like I said with Shooting Sean, a large part of the appeal for me in these books is how close the books feel to me. Dan and his wife live in the Holy Land, a large suburban area off the Ormeau Road and close to Queen’s University. I park in the Holy Land most days’s when I go to university; so when Dan is talking, I can see exactly what he’s seeing. I’ve been in the pubs he drinks in, seen the sights he saw. It makes the book a whole lot more real to me – people might like to imagine what it was like, but this way, I can imagine the scene right down to what he smells.
Dan is writes a column in the Belfast News, but times are hard for him and his wife Patricia, so he decides to take on a job showing foreign journalists around the city. This introduces him to Parker, the American journalist who is covering the local elections for an American paper, who has travelled over to interview Brinn, the leader of the Alliance party, the party in the middle, the peace party, who are expected to win the election by a landslide. This job suits Dan down to the ground – he gets to show Parker round his hometown whilst wining (beering would be a more appropriate term) and dining at someone else’s expense. Nice work if you can get it!
But, as you might have guessed
, something else is about to happen to our hero; otherwise it would be a boring story. Dan has a great sense of humour, he’s a funny guy, but he’s not THAT good. And so, one day while sleeping drunk in the park (as you do), he meets a student, Margaret, who he brings back to a party at his house. Dan and Margaret get on well, too well perhaps, as Patricia comes up the stairs to find them kissing. Dan gets thrown out and ends up spending the night with Margaret, not really helping matters along by sleeping with Margaret. Well, if you’re doing something, may as well do it in style.
Just when he thinks things couldn’t get any worse, they do. He pops out to get something to eat, coming back to find Margaret murdered in bed and the house ransacked. To complete the mess, he manages to attack Margaret’s mother as she comes up the stairs to see what’s going on, knocking her down the stairs and breaking her neck. Two dead people, and Dan’s in major trouble, what\are the police going to say. Knocking a woman down the stair, maybe you can explain, but the girl upstairs with holes in her chest might be a little harder. So Dan does what any responsible man would do, he gets his ass out of there. However, that doesn’t explain why he ends up being pursued by both the loyalist and nationalist paramilitaries. What does he have that could possibly be of interest to both of them?
That’s probably a convenient place to stop to avoid giving away any more of the plot. I enjoyed the book immensely, largely due to the fact that the plot is twisty, turny and unpredictable, it is very hard, almost impossible to see what’s going to happen next, and even when you do think you’ve got it sussed, it’ll throw in a little something to catch you off guard even more. Another part of the appeal is that it’s so matter of fact. It doesn’t try to pretend that death doesn’t happen, and by nothing be
coming overly attached to characters, it makes it all the more realistic. This book deals with Paramilitaries who would gladly put a bullet in your head for five minutes amusement. By not ignoring this, it makes the book a lot grittier and harder hitting. It doesn’t glorify it, in fact it shows how senseless and brutal it all is, but it brings home how nasty and undesirable the criminal underworld of Northern Ireland is.
It’s a bit too humorous to be a true thriller, but a little to dark to be a true comedy. It kind of falls in between the two, but not in a bad way, in the type of way that will satisfy people who enjoy either type of book. It’s quite fast paced and action packed, there’s always something going on whether it is some kind of situation, argument or conversation. The chapter are really well organised, each ends on some kind of cliffhanger, making it really difficult to put the book down. It’s like watching Neighbours or something, except that you don’t have to wait until the next day to find out what happens.
Like I said about Shooting Sean, it isn’t slapstick comedy. It’s mostly wit and spoken humour rather than running around like a mad thing and falling over. It’s like Die Hard, except with a funnier lead character than Bruce Willis. I take that back – it’s more realistic than the type of Die Hard film – yes, Starkey is taking on Paramilitaries in order to try and survive, but not legions of them at a time. There’s no jumping off buildings for Starkey, he spends most of his time running away from them.
Dan Starkey is an excellent lead character. He’s witty and sharp and has an uncanny knack of getting out of dodgy situations by the skin of his teeth. He provides a bit of lightness in the dangerous situations, like a James Bond making jokes when he’s facing death, except without most of the class and style of a James Bond. He has humour
you would kill for; able to come out with something witty when it looks like his numbers up. Some might call him a bit of a smart arse, but I think it’s quite endearing. The supporting characters are all excellent as well. Parker becomes a rather unwitting sidekick during the book, and he becomes more of a serious foil to Starkey – while Starkey is more of the type of person to rush straight in without thinking, Parker would rather consider things before taking action. The other characters work really well, interacting with one another superbly. They’re always having some kind of argument or conversation, usually degenerating into something sarcastic. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.
It’s probably the type of book that would appeal to young adult, it seems to be aimed mainly at that type of audience as it is quite a laid back novel. I’m sure older readers would enjoy it as well; it just seems to be one of those books aimed at a youngish audience. The style of writing is very laid back and it’s easy to dip in and out of. The chapters are quite short so it’s quite easy to read in short chunks when you have five minutes free time here and there. It’s 282 pages long, a few days reading at the most, as once you do pick it up, that five minutes can multiply and turn into a much greater period of time.
The writing style is witty and laid back. It’s written in the first person, as if Starkey is telling you the events after it has all happened. This format works very well and it allows the writer to use his wit and charm, and stops the events becoming a little mundane and boring. The conversational style allows him to more accurately reflect exactly what was going through his mind at each point in time, and he often goes completely off on a tangent, as something jogs his memory and reminds him of something else, something related to it, which again helps illustrate what he is trying to convey t
o us. Comparing what he was feeling at the time to something we all would have experience of gives us a much better indication of exactly what is running through my head. It also is a pretty accurate reflection of some of the silly things that pop into you mind whenever something bad is happening to you – all the memories, regrets, lines from songs, funny things like that. Not that you’ve ever been held at gunpoint by terrorists. At least I hope you haven’t.
If I’d known about this, I’d certainly have read this before Shooting Sean, as there are a few references to the events of this book in Shooting Sean. It doesn’t spoil it, but it’s like watching a sequel before you see the first one – you know which characters make it and which don’t. It’s still a damn fine read, funny, edgy and exciting. If you’re into your awards, this won the Betty Trask Prize in 1994. I haven’t heard of that, but that means it’s good, so go out and get it, OK!