Christopher Fowler's books have always been pretty difficult to get hold of. When I first started reading his work, I found that Amazon and Waterstones were always the best places to find his past novels. This twin-pronged attack served me well until I only had one of his novels left to find, an early book titled "Red Bride". I'd virtually given up finding a copy as it was out of print, and even the author himself describes it as virtually impossible to find anywhere
That was until a copy was located for me on eBay by a friend who knew how big a fan I was and how hard Id hunted for a copy. When it was sent to me, I was like a child on Christmas Day, diving into the package with great hopes and expectations. Having enjoyed all of Fowlers work up until this point, would the search of every second hand bookshop I passed be worth the time and effort, now that the book had been found for me?
John Chapel has just made a strange career move, from accounting to public relations. In his first days in his new job, he is introduced to the captivating model and actress Ixora de Corizo. Despite having been a happily married family man, when time allowed, in his old job, he falls for Ixora. He sacrifices virtually everything he has to be with her, losing his wife, his home and his job as a result of their liaison.
However, it seems that Ixora may have a hidden past. As their relationship progresses, John is warned away from her by a number of men who have previously loved her. Men who subsequently die in strange ways. It soon seems to John that to be associated with Ixora is to either die horribly, or to bring yourself to the attention of the Police. But the more John comes to know her, the more he loves her. Yet while the knowledge of Ixoras past eludes him, he can never quite trust her.
This is one of Fowlers earlier efforts and unfortunately, it shows. The story takes a long time to get going and never really gets to a place where youre completely gripped by it, which is quite unusual for Fowler. Its as if he wants to spend a lot of time setting the scene, which isnt necessarily a bad thing, but Fowlers strength has always been his ability to keep things happening and keep the pages turning. Once youre into the real meat of the story, things do pick up a little, but theyve had to build up to get there, rather than being on the pace right from the start.
The other thing thats noticeably missing from Fowlers normal style is the touch of reality. Hes frequently categorised as urban horror, because much of what occurs in his novels happens in a known world, usually London, and features people you can relate to and, in many cases, see yourself in. The situations are often quite realistic and sometimes the scariest part of reading a Fowler novel is the knowledge that what is occurring could happen to you.
Sadly, there is none of this in Red Bride. The whole situation is a little too fantastic to leave you looking over your shoulder. Whilst John Chapel is supposed to be everyman, the character we can all sympathise with and relate to, but he wasnt well drawn enough to seem realistic. As a supposed hero, he is too weak to get you on his side and its hard to figure out what Ixora sees in him. Ixora herself is fairly two dimensional as well which, as the Red Bride of the title, means that the whole book is lacking as far as the characters go.
However, perhaps the biggest crime in the novel is that its all worryingly predictable. One of Fowlers strengths is to take a normal situation and turn it into a nasty ride, but here he seems to be treading the same tired path as any number of horror writers before him. The end result is that few of the storys events are a surprise and the ending is not a surprise in the slightest. It is only the details surrounding the story that vary slightly from anything thats gone before in the field of horror writing and theyre not well written enough or original enough to take your mind off the obviousness of the basic story.
The book was, for me, much like getting a tie for Christmas. You might need them, and it will be a valuable addition to your wardrobe, but you really wanted something a little more exciting. After hunting high and low for this book for two years, it turned out not to be worth the effort and Im grateful only that it was bought for me, rather than paying for it. At the same time, knowing its quite a rare book these days and because I have to have every book written by my favourite authors, Im glad to own a copy. But like that tie, it will go to the back of the wardrobe and only see the light infrequently and even then, mostly for decorative purposes rather than for serious use.
If youre a fan of the horror genre, I wouldnt bother with Red Bride, as youll probably have read this story before, albeit in a different form and probably better written. If youre looking for a new author, I would never hesitate to recommend Christopher Fowler, just not this particular book. If youre a fan of Fowlers writing, its all going to come down to how much you want to complete a set of everything hes written. If you are that much of a collector, £3.99 from the Amazon Marketplace and £3.75 from Green Metropolis probably arent too high a price to pay, although both are more than the story itself is worth.
?This is for you!? he cried, realigning the gun and squeezing off a single shot which reverberated through the fairy labyrinth. As the screaming began, he looked down to see that the top of Father Christmas?s head had exploded over the surprised infant. The child was thrown clear as the rotund body toppled slowly to one side and fell to the floor, pumping blood across the artificial snow and spattering a set of cheeky lightbulb-nosed reindeer with spots of crimson.? Those of you who abhor the excessive run up to Christmas as much as I will find this extract from the novel as amusing as I did. Unfortunately this is the most enjoyable paragraph in the book! THE STORY John Chapel works in public relations. His main client is Ixora, a stunning model and would-be actress. He slowly begins to fall in love with her and leaves his wife and family to be with her. However, all is not idyllic as John begins to find himself caught up in not one murder investigation but several. People are being killed and killed violently. They all have just one connection: Ixora. Is this the work of a jealous ex-lover? Is John himself the killer or is he the next intended victim? OUR HERO When John Chapel is first introduced to us he comes across as rather a weak man. He married at an early age when his partner, Helen, became pregnant. It seems as though he has got where he is more by luck than judgment. He has been given the chance of a new exciting career in the busy world of media public relations and yet he doesn?t seem to realise how lucky he is. Here is a man who seems to have little skill, professional demeanour or ambition and yet he has a job that involves attending glitzy film premieres, photo shoots and other such events, which many people would kill for. He has a loving and devoted wife, who puts up with him working late, unexpected meetings and his inattentiveness. He has an intelligent, well-adjusted, he
althy child. Yet this seemingly idyllic life is not enough for him. He is willing to throw it all away when he feels a stirring in his loins after taking one look at a pretty woman. The man is obviously extremely weak willed and has no self-control. At one point in the book he recognises how lucky he is to have a devoted wife and loving son and vows to himself that he will not risk that by playing away. Pages later our ?hero? is shagging his first client. Yet this is the main male character in the novel. This is the man with whom we are supposed to empathise, whose life we are supposed to fear for and for whose team we should be rooting. Personally I found it impossible to identify with him. I am not saying that I am perfect. I recognise that human beings have weaknesses. However, this man seemed to have no redeeming qualities and I could never like him. More than that, I disliked him for the hurt he caused his wife and the lack of regard he showed towards his son. Even more than that, I spent most of the book hoping and praying that he would be the next victim of the murderer! OUR HEROINE Ixora enters the novel when spotted by John briefly at Waterloo station before he has met her. It is a dark night, she is wearing red, she moves strangely and the entire encounter seems shrouded in an ambience of mystique. This prepares the reader for Ixora?s character, as she is portrayed as being a secretive woman with a hidden past. She seems to tell small lies about her past and misleads even John about who she is and where she comes from. As the reader we should be fascinated by this mystery and should be waiting with baited breath for her secrets to be revealed. Unfortunately I began to find that I couldn?t care less. She seemed such a shallow, selfish, aloof woman, who was dallying with a man (John) I didn?t like that I just couldn?t bring myself to be interested enough in her to find out more about her. MURDER MYSTERY In addition to the development of the relationship between John and Ixora, the other main plot involves the investigation of the murders which occur throughout the book. The murders themselves are interesting to read about; a photographer bleeds to death after having an undeveloped film forced down his trachea with a camera tripod, an ex-lover is found impaled on the spiked railings of Buckingham Palace. However, the identity of the murderer is not interesting. Several theories are expounded during the book and one of these seems the most likely to the averagely intelligent reader. Without spoiling the book, let me say that even my pet rabbit would have had his suspicions as to whom the murderer was and when we do discover their identity and have our own inklings confirmed we just think (and here I feel a quote from Garfield is extremely apt), ?Big fat hairy deal?. SLOW PAGE TURNER There is no doubt that Christopher Fowler is a talented writer. His stories can be gripping, his characters intriguing and his books eminently readable. Unfortunately with this novel the story did indeed have promise but it was let down by unlikeable characters and through instilling apathy in the reader. An entertaining read but certainly not to be used as a first dip into Fowler?s works. OTHER INFO Publisher: ROC Fiction, 375 Hudson Street, New York ISBN: 0-451-45293-3