Ok <deep breath>. Time to come out of the closet as a Doctor Who fan. The "Classic" series, not the new that is. So, what does that mean? Well, it means I collect the DVDs that are issued and, once a year I go to a Doctor Who convention. Don't worry, I'm not one of those ultra fanboys who has a full size replica of the TARDIS in their house, talks about nothing else but Doctor Who and likes to dress up as Tom Baker.
What, I hear you ask, does Doctor Who have to do with a book review by someone called Maureen O'Brien? Read on and all shall be revealed.....
Who is Maureen O'Brien?:
Maureen O'Brien was born in 1943 in Liverpool and, initially, worked as an actress. She has appeared in Casualty, The Bill, Cracker, Taggart, Tales Of The Unexpected, Z Cars, Heartbeat and A Touch Of Frost amongst others. Her best known role, however, is in the TV series Doctor Who in which she played the character of Vicki for 38 episodes between 1965 and 1966 working with William Hartnell's Doctor.
Her first novel, "Close Upon Death" was published in 1989 and since then she has juggled careers as both an actress and an author. To date she has written seven books featuring her detective, John Bright. They are:
Close Upon Death (1989)
Deadly Reflection (1993)
Mask Of Betrayal (1998)
Dead Innocent (1999)
Unauthorised Departure (2003)
Every Step You Take (2004)
Fifteen years ago George Fletcher got married to Marje. Unfortunately, the marriage night was a disaster and George wasn't able to "perform" afterwards. Still, all seemed to be fine until one fatal day when George decided to mow the lawn. Marje and another man were in the garden shed, sprawled out in post coital bliss. Needless to say that that was the end of the marriage.
Present day:. Things are looking bleak for the firm in which George is a partner. There may be a merger. George is still single and he becomes obsessed with a young girl named Alison that reminds him of Marje. He follows her home from work, watches her with his brother, even goes to church to watch her. His behaviour is stalkerish to say the least. Then George discovers that she and his brother Kevin are having a "relationship"
Not far away, a girl named Polly is having problems with her step father. When she moves into the spare room in George's mother's house George realises that she looks a little like Alison. Forgetting Alison, he starts to obsess over her instead.
Then a body turns up. Is it Alison? Is it Polly? Did George have something to do with the murder? Was it Kevin? Or was it somebody else? DI John Bright, an old friend of George's must attempt to get to the truth after George confesses to the murder........
I got this book a few years ago at a Doctor Who convention. Maureen was there signing copies of the book so I got a personal dedication inscribed in the front and started reading it that night when my friend and I went to our room.
This is without doubt one of the worst books I have ever read. One of the major problems with it is Maureen O'Brien's writing style which I can only describe as truly atrocious. There's no flow to her prose, her speech is laboured and her descriptions are jaw droppingly bad. You probably think I'm exaggerating, don't you?
When George discovers Marje and the man together we're told he was "just someone they saw on Saturday morning in the pub. A nobody. A nothing. A chap you see in the local, a car salesman or something, a nothing, a nobody".
It's all very repetitive and achingly dull. O' Brien doesn't seem to know when to leave a point rather than hammering it home with all the sublety of a sledgehammer. Her fondness for short sentences, sometimes just two words in length as evidenced above doesn't help with the flow of the narrative either.
As I said, George discovers Marje and her lover in the garden shed, sweaty from their coupling. George is mystified how people can get so wet "doing it" and Maureen describes to us just how wet Marje and the man are. I'm sure that you can think of a number of ways in which should can describe how wet people might get from having sex but I'd be exceptionally surprised if any of you come up with Maureen's description. "Wet as fishes in their element" is her chosen way of conveying that to us. There are other descriptions of other things that are equally as bad at various points throughout the book.
It's actually quite difficult to convey how bad her style is without reproducing huge chunks of it for you to see for yourselves but, obviously, that breaches copyright. I did wonder whether I was, perhaps, being far too harsh and asked a friend of mine to read some of the book and comment on the style rather than the plot without telling her what my own views on it were. I'm sure she won't mind me telling you what she had to say:-
"The writing is just not very good and with the vocab, short sentences and repetition seems very much like something sub Enid Blyton when, with it's "saucy" content it's clearly aimed at someone a tad older. It comes across as a very convoluted sexual fantasy from someone with a pretty low IQ - better not written down".
The thing is that she's right when she says that this is sub Enid Blyton stuff. Say what you like about her, but Blyton's prose style flowed well and engaged the interest of huge numbers of her target age group. O' Brien's narrative style doesn't flow well at all and that's one of the major reasons why this book doesn't engage and retain the interest of the reader.
Plotwise, the book itself is marketed as a mystery and we even have Gerald Kaufman quoted on the back cover saying that this is "the very model of what a mystery should be". Hmm. I wonder whether he actually read it?
The book itself is 281 pages in story length. Given that the mystery here revolves around a murder when would you expect the said murder to take place? In the first 20 pages or so perhaps? Or possibly within the first 50? That would give you a decent amount of time to develop the suspects, clues etc wouldn't it?
How about somewhere between page 51 & page 100? It would still leave you with a sizeable chunk of the book to focus on the aftermath, wouldn't it? Actually, the murdered girl is still alive on page 150 and it's not until page 187 that her body is mentioned. We don't actually see the murder being committed.
So, what does Maureen do with the first 187 pages or so? Well, aside from the prologue about George and Marje we get to find out all about George, his mother and his brother Kevin who has a mental age of less than three. Then there's Alison who lives a few doors away and who George becomes initially obsessed with. We're also introduced to Polly, her mother and stepfather and find out that Polly and Alison look quite similar and that Polly and her step father don't get on.
Then, of course, we get the body turning up on page 187. By page 247, the solution to the murder is pretty much handed to you on a plate. The likelihood however is that you'll have managed to work out who the killer is before this because the plot is so obvious it wouldn't tax the intelligence of a 9 year old. To be totally and completely frank with you, some of the Hardy Boys book I've spent the last few months reviewing have got more mystery in them than this book.
Aside from that, none of the characters are that interesting. Kevin has a mental age of less than three so his dialogue is restricted to the odd word and a gurgle here and there. George just comes across as some sad, lonely man who gets obsessed with anyone that reminds him of Marje. In the hands of a better writer he would probably elicit the sympathy of the reader but here O'Brien's prose style just renders him completely and utterly dull. Mrs. Fletcher, George and Kevin's mother, is the usual stereotypical harridan who can still manage to make grown men feel like teenagers and Polly's family setup is no doubt meant to be "edgy" and "current" but it's hard to care what she's had to put up with at home but the writing style is so abysmal.
As for the sex scenes it's perhaps not best to go there. Let's just say that they make anything that you might read in Mills and Boon look like Shakespeare and leave it at that.
All in all the main mystery concerning this book is how it managed to get published in the first place. If you're looking for something involving with interesting characters and a decent storyline that's going to keep your guessing then this book isn't it.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks; New edition (6 Oct 2005)
More information on the author and her books can be found at: http://www.maureenobrien.co.uk/