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'The Death List' by Paul Johnston is the tale of author Matt Wells whose literary flame is slowly dying amidst poor reviews and even poorer novels. Who wants to read crime fiction set in Albania for heavens sake? Anyway, one day Mr. Wells receives an email from someone calling themselves 'The White Devil' who threatens the Wells family and friends with death should the out-of-sorts author not follow the Devils instructions. It's simple - all he wants Matt to do is write his sordid life story for him which is grotesquely unfolding as he speaks (types?).
However, once the Devil has come to the end of his own 'Death List' and removed every person(name) on it he soon begins to target those on another list he has drawn up. A list much nearer to Matt Wells's heart. What begins as a seemingly sick joke soon becomes a game of life and death for poor Matt as he fights to take control of his own life back and prevent the death of all those around him.
When I initially picked this book up in the library I was quite eager to read it - once I had finished a few other books first. Sometimes my backlog can take up quite a lot of space but should I see something interesting in the library then this jump's the queue somewhat.
The book is described as being 'white knuckle fast, furious and twisted as hell' by Mark Billingham, himself an author of many crime fiction novels. Granted the book is fast. It is certainly rather twisted. Unfortunately, it is also crap.
Usually when I begin a book I can usually tell whether I'm going to like it or not by the end of a few pages and I have to admit, even though the writing is very poor, the story did manage to grab my attention. However, what really spurred me on to finishing the book was to warn any prospective reader away from purchasing the damn thing.
It has been a long time since I have read such a poorly written book with a list of characters so thin you can practically see the daylight through them. The dialogue they speak is completely unlike anything I've ever heard and it's wonderful how all the authors friends have some talent that can help Matt in his hour of need. One just happens to be ex-SAS for pitys sake. And even if they don't possess the required skill then they know someone who can so any dead-end is taken care of by a carefully placed phonecall or two.
The entire story has no real substance at all. I love reading crime fiction and like to read and feel the machine of the law in full swing. This story follows in part the path lead investigator Karen Oaten takes as she and her squad attempt to unravel this mysterious Devil character but never once does it involve showing us the police procedure's involved. As far as character goes for the police investigators the nearest thing you get to any kind of background information is by learning that Miss Oaten is single because her vibrator see's so much action. It really is some of the worst prose I have ever read.
The book also contains a lot of violence - not a lot of it is described as it happens it is mainly just the gory after-effects on the police and Matt and happens in such amounts over a tiny space of time that it just seems farcical. NOTHING about this book feels real and to be quite honest feels like it was written by some teenager thinking they can write for adults with an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish.
The story is delivered to us in two forms - third person when we are following the exploits of the police, Devil etc. and first person when we are looking through the eyes of Matt. Usually I like to read books written in the first person as the story can go into detail regarding a persons feelings and thoughts but here all we get to read is how Matt feels about the same things over and over and over again.
The character of the Devil himself is another comical creation with a back story of preposterous situations. When he discovers that he has been adopted he grabs his mothers breast and starts kissing her?!?!? There really are not enough words I could use to describe how poor this truly is.
Apparently Paul Johnston's first book 'Body Politic' won an award for best first novel and this and others of his stories have received acclaim from various luminories such as John Connelly and Val McDermid and have been praised for their 'black humour'. I'm telling you - the only thing that had me laughing was the absurdity of the entire piece.
I have rated the book two stars because underneath lies a pretty good story it is just undertaken in a very bad way.
I have no idea how much this is going for on Amazon or eBay or the like as quite frankly anything over 50p is way too much and should only be purchased if you want to fill up the bookshelf on the cheap or to perhaps level out a wobbly table. Oh, and there is a twist at the conclusion but by that point I was way past caring and just glad to reach the end.
You have been warned.
Also posted on Ciao.
Yet another book I read at work over the weekend, I dont remember ever having come across the author before but it does say that this is the first in a series which will feature the same lead character Matt Wells so I am assuming it is also the first book by this author (I am happy to be corrected if this is wrong).
The Death List sounds an ominous title and it starts as it means to go on, with the seemingly random and unconnected murder of Steven Newton (so seemingly random and unconnected it wasnt until I started writing this that I realised why it was even included in the book!). After this prologue we start the story proper, meeting Matt Wells on what has seemed to be an ordainary day.
Matt is an author, he has had a couple of moderately successful novels published but his last ones have been badly recieved and as a result both his publisher and agent have dropped him, he still keeps up the pretense of writing though, even if it is back to the music reviews he used to write before his novels, although recently he hasnt managed to do many of those either.
All in all Matt Wells seems to be a man whos writing career is all but over, but he is still unwilling to admit defeat, logging on to his website to check for fan emails or more importantly offers of work of which one is in short supply and the other none existant.
But today there is something different, another email from a fan calling themself WD, today though somehow WD has found out that Matt wrote his novels under a pseudonym something Matt himself was careful never to disclose. But more importantly WD has an offer of work for Matt.
But clearly it cant be above board since the payment is in cash, and waiting down stairs for Matt to collect, since Matt's living circumstances are also pretty secret this is even more worrying. Another email though proves that WD has somehow found out everything you might need to know about Matt Wells including the name of his birth mother, the final straw though is the threat against his daughter Lucy and a 'mess' which has been left in her bedroom.
The mess is the horrifically mutilated body of the dog which lived next door to Lucy and Matts ex wife. Matt following the instructions disposes of the body and finds himself deep in to a situation where no one around him is safe. And he is privy to the details of a series of murders both recent and older, which the police are struggling to solve, since the killer is meticulous in his planning and execution of them, leaving only written clues in the form of quotes from an old play 'White Devils' by John Webster. The problem for Matt is that not only is the killer getting him to write up the murders as though they were fiction but he is using Matts own books as inspiration for the methods of killing which will unavoidably lead the police to Matt himself.
Overall the book is quite gripping, the murders are vividly described, but I think at times the author has gone too far in trying to make them seem gruesome and has lessened the impact of each subsequent murder scene, though taken individually they are pretty bad. Despite that the action is quite well paced, certainly I didnt feel that it dragged nor was too fast that I got confused at all.
Sadly I found that the character development outside of Matt himself was very limited and I really couldnt have cared less about his friends, family or girlfriend, though a couple of the police characters are more 3 dimensional but not as well fleshed out as you might like but given this is the first of a series I have to hope that this will be something which improves over the course of it.
It is just over 400 pages long, and was part of the 3 for £10 deal at Asda, I wouldnt say it is worth the £7 cover price which so something even amazon agree with since it will cost you £3.50 from them or £1.70 from the marketplace. All in all if you happen to be a fan of the gorier end of the crime novel spectrum this might be worth a try certain if you just want to add a few quid to an amazon order to get the free delivery it is well worth considering, or if you see it as part of a similar deal to the asda one.
According to amazon Paul Johnston has actually written quite a few books over the years, so if you already know of the author it would probably appeal to you.
Ever really felt like killing someone?London crime novelist Matt Wells has dumped by his agent, his publisher and his wife, he has more revenge fantasies than most.But when Matt is contacted by a serial killer called the 'White Devil', he is horrified to discover that this evil force knows everything about him, his family, friends - and his enemies.Then the slaughter begins and Matt's idle fantasies are made all too real. If Matt can't stop the White Devil in time, all those people Matt really hates are about to meet a chilling fate...