“ Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: Chris Niles / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 352 Pages / Book is published 1998-04-09 by Pan Books „
I often wonder what some DJs look like. I imagine that only those that have some sort of beauty will be plucked from the radio waves and allowed on occasion to appear on TV. Surely this can not be true if the likes of Chris Moyles are anything to go by. If he is the picture of radio DJ beauty I hate to think what yours looks like. Imagine those DJs that work the late night shift on the local station. Do they shuffle in on uneven legs, their hairy knuckles dragging across the cheap carpeting? I imagine that the producer has to enter the studio every few minutes to wipe away the strange yellow gloop that is inevitably oozing from the DJs open pustules. Perhaps I am completely wrong and have eaten far too many sugary sweets today; Chris Niles would certainly disagree as her DJ hero is a very handsome man.
Journalists are often painted as a drunken bunch and this is certainly the case in Niles' 'Spike It' the first in a series of books that followed radio news journo Sam Ridley. Sam has a reason to be drunk though as his ex-wife has moved to Australia taking their son with her, now Sam drinks himself to sleep every night. On one drunken night he stumbles across a crime scene, little does he know that events from that night will impact his own life when he begins to investigate the case. This usually would not be a problem for Sam as a new hound, but he has been taken off the press desk and put on women's features. Can Sam investigate a murder whilst holding on to his job in one hand and a pint and ciggie in the other?
There are some books that try to blind you with character and 'Spike It' is one of them. For the first half of the novel you are really enjoying yourself and that is because in the character Sam, Niles' has created a charismatic lead. Funny anti heroes are not new to the crime genre, but it is not always something that is easy to pull off so Niles should be praised that she did. Sam may be good looking, but this is not really an issue in the book as he is so depressed with his lot that he does not care. The incessant drinking and disrespect for authority means that reading about Sam barging into a police investigation is great fun. Niles enhances Sam's character further by placing him is a believable working environment with characters designed to wind him up the wrong way.
Despite the great central character it is not quite good enough to trick you through the entire novel, eventually you realise that the story is weakening as it goes along. The case starts off at a fast pace as a body is discovered and potential leads are fed out. However, things really start to stagnate as Niles concentrates more on the characters than the actual narrative. This has a further impact on the final part of the book that seems to rush in from nowhere as revelation after revelation appears. It almost seems as if Niles was aware that she had let time get away from her and that she would need to cram as much detail into the final few chapters as possible.
There was also another area that impacted negatively on the book - it feels very dated. Written in 1997 it has not aged well. Admittedly this is now over ten years ago but Niles has not helped herself by giving the book a very 'Cool Britannia' feel; a concept that only really lasted for the mid-90s. The laddish, drinking and smoking nature of Sam does not really fit in with today's modern world and is even a caricature of those times. If Niles had tried to make Sam slightly more believable the book would have felt far more relevant now.
So is 'Spike it' a poor novel? By no means, I really enjoyed Sam's escapades especially for the first half of the book. This is the first of a series of novels following these characters and I can only see better things from them. Sam is already established as a likable lead, if Niles can place him in a strong narrative there is no doubt that it will be an excellent book, for now though there is a distinct lack of story direction. I would recommend this to crime fans looking for a lighter new series to get into who have pretty much read everything else (try Colin Bateman first).
Author: Chris Niles
Price: amazon uk - £0.01 second hand only