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Past Mortem - Ben Elton
Member Name: sunmeilan
Past Mortem - Ben Elton
Advantages: Intriguing story, good pacing and characters
Disadvantages: Unbelievable story
I am of the generation in which Ben Elton will always be known first and foremost as a scriptwriter for hit comedies such as Blackadder. However, he has also published a number of novels, including this one, which have done exceptionally well. This is my first example of his book and I was a little unsure of what to expect - was it going to be a comedy? There is no doubt that there is a streak of humour running through the book, but on the whole, it is actually a fairly serious piece of crime fiction and it is well-written to boot.
Edward Newson (known as Spewsome Newson at school) is a short man with ginger hair, a good sense of humour and a very low sense of self-worth. He cannot imagine a beautiful woman like Natasha ever falling for him - and it seems that this is the case as she has a long-term jerk of a boyfriend. All this makes Newson immediately likeable; women because he is an underdog and general all-rounder and men because he makes them feel better about themselves. His private life does play quite a large part in the novel, which helps to develop him as a character - the involvement with old schoolfriends means that we get a glimpse of him as a schoolboy and all the trials and tribulations he had to go through. His feelings for Natasha are touching and slightly comic, and generally a pleasure to read.
The main emphasis of the book is on bullying and the damage that it does. All the murder victims had a massive influence on the lives of the people they bullied, although they were almost certainly not aware of it. Having been bullied myself, I must admit I am tempted to send a copy of the book to my bully. Although obviously I don't condone going around murdering bullies, I liked the message that the book gave - bullying is such a hidden problem in so many walks of life and it is good to see it dealt with in this way. There are also messages about domestic violence, because Natasha finds herself in a situation where she is being bullied by her partner.
I really enjoyed the pacing of the novel. It is never boring; every time it seems that the action is coming to an end, something else happens, making it really hard to put the book down. The last third of the book in particular is very exciting and kept me up late until I had finished it. For those who don't like gore, it can get a little out of hand at times - some of the murders are really very unpleasant and the descriptions are quite graphic. There are also a couple of very graphic sex scenes, involving fisting and anal sex - it wasn't overly offensive, but it didn't really seem to belong in this sort of book. However, there is some respite between these sections with Newson's views on women and life in general, which add a little bit of humour to the proceedings.
The only let-down to the book for me was that the plot just got too out of control. The murderer's reasons for committing the killings weren't convincing; nor was their ability to track all the victims down and gain access to their properties. The author was, I think, trying to keep things light-hearted and so some artistic licence has to be allowed, but he just went a little too far. And the last couple of chapters seem as if they were written in a bit of a hurry, with the author just wanting to tie up all the loose ends and finish the book. It didn't ruin the book for me, but it did turn what could have been a brilliant book into just a very good one. There are also a couple of policing issues - things that I'm fairly sure would never happen during a murder investigation - that made me stop and take note.
Despite the odd reservation, however, the book is very well written. It flows well and the language is pithy and to the point, as I would expect from a taltented man like Ben Elton. The chapters are a great length - generally nice and short, and always ending with a slight cliffhanger to encourage the reader to keep reading. As far as I'm aware, Newson doesn't appear in any of Elton's other work, but I would have been quite happy to read more about him had this book resulted in a series - I think Elton makes a surprisingly good author of crime fiction and with a little bit more research into policing issues, he could have become even better.
I enjoyed reading this book very much. It isn't without its flaws, but it is certainly entertaining and I wouldn't hesitate to read more of Elton's work. Whether you like crime fiction or not, I think this book is worth trying - although if you are expecting a laugh on every page, you might be disappointed, so it is best to be prepared. Recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £4.99. Published by Transworld Publishers, it has 419 pages. ISBN: 9780552771238
Summary: An enjoyable romp of a murder story!