The Deaths, by Mark Lawson, is one of the most interesting books I read in 2013, and also the most thought-provoking. Although I've often listened to Lawson's radio programmes, and watched him on TV, I've never read his fiction before, although it's been clear for a long time that he's very interested in the crime genre. The Deaths is a book about crime, but it's also a mainstream novel, rather than avowedly a genre work.
That said, the central plot gimmick is one that was (to the best of my knowledge) dreamed up by Anthony Berkeley in the Golden Age of detective fiction. This is a "whowasdunin", when we know that murder has been committed, right from the outset - the opening line is "The deaths are discovered because of the country's sudden obsession with perfect coffee" - but are left to guess who the victims are, as well as whodunit.
This is a book set in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and focuses on four wealthy couples who live cheek by jowl, and whose apparently charmed lives are just about to turn rather unpleasant. There is a great deal of social comedy in this book, with some very funny lines, and acute observations. I struggled to like the characters, I must say, and it may be that Lawson overdoes their odiousness, but this is a gripping story which kept me fascinated from start to finish.
I have one or two quibbles. The idea that a PR guy would be sent out to negotiate a severance deal with a departing bank boss struck me as incredible,but then again, this book was not aimed at employment lawyers. I also wasn't convinced by some aspects of the life and career of one character who is a barrister. These points nagged at me, because it would have been easy to avoid them,but in the overall scheme of things, they didn't matter much. I've enjoyed discussing The Debts with someone else who has read it, and although in this post I'm keen to avoid spoilers, I can recommend it with confidence that others will enjoy it as much as I did..
I seem to recall at least two other "whodunin" mysteries,to use the term from Barzun and Taylor: Pick Your Victim by Patricia McGerr (1946), and The Man Who Did Not Fly by Margot Bennett (1956).
I usually enjoy Mark Lawson's journalistic writings very much, I find him clever and funny. I've been thinking I ought to try his fiction, so perhaps this is the one to launch into. I love your complaints - it's so funny the way we all see the mistakes closest to our own lives. The rest of us probably wouldn't notice your nitpicks at all....
Anon - thanks, you are quite right. Also, Anita Boutell wrote at least one, and Pat McGerr some others.
Hi Moira, yes, he's very clever as well as funny, and I think you will enjoy this one. You're right about the nit-picks, though if aiming to capture the condition of Britain, details matter more than in some other books.
You are the only person I have seen on the Internet who actually always responds to comments. Thank you for your politeness.
I've just finished this book and need desperately to know whether I'm correct in thinking what happens to one of the characters?!???
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