Five Deadly Words by Keith Colquhoun

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Five Deadly Words by Keith Colquhoun

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Laura Bailey
Reviewed by Laura Bailey
Summary: A novel with an intriguing subject matter and brimming with Colquhoun's trademark dry wit. However, I felt this book didn't live up to its potential, it felt filled out with two-dimensional characters and had an unsatisfactory ending.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 236 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Solidus
ISBN: 978-1904529491

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Five Deadly Words follows the story of charismatic former dictator Lucas, as he charms and 'collects' people during his exile in London. The story is seen mostly from the point of view of Helen Berlin, the bright young Detective Constable who is put in charge of Lucas' safety. Helen finds herself caught up in matters which become increasingly out of her depth as she falls further into the former dictator's world.

The idea behind the story was a really good and intriguing one. I was drawn in straight away, interested in what would happen to a dictator out of context, after they had been exiled from their own country, it is something people rarely think about, especially through the eyes of that hated man himself. As Helen finds herself starting to become attached to Lucas, so does the reader, causing an interesting humanisation of what usually would be a demonised figure.

The subject matter was the main thing that I liked about this novel. There is a particularly wonderful scene where Lucas holds a party for other exiled dictators. The idea of a group of dictators coming together for drinks and to commiserate with each other about the good old days is a charming, if disturbing, image of tyrannical solidarity.

Lucas was an incredibly interesting character and I would have liked to have got inside his head even more. He was really likeable for a former dictator and was a curious character to get to know. Colquhoun gave Lucas just the right amount of mystery and charisma to keep him a realistic character while at the same time capturing all of the flaws and faults that made him a dictator but without making him a hated character. His dictatorial way of thinking is acknowledged by the author without being judged, which in itself is refreshing, leaving the reader able to get to know him as a person without worry of his questionable political ideology.

On the other hand, however, Helen Berlin was something of a stereotype. Although I found it refreshing to have a female protagonist, as I find that novels which deal with political issues tend to be male-only zones, she was a familiar character. A typical career-focused woman with an oddly detached view of men and sex, seeing them as potential partners with no seeming emotional involvement. This kind of character has been written many times over and she never quite felt real, I would have liked Helen to have had an added something to make her unique, which would have given the novel more depth and colour.

It wasn't just Helen that felt a little wooden though, all the female characters were introduced in an awkward way, with the author providing a complete, list-like description of their physical appearance and clothing in a way that wasn't apparent with male characters and gave a kind of misogynistic feel to the book. At the same time, most of the male characters seemed to think about nothing but sex, while Helen used it as a bargaining tool and never seeming to actually want it. This carried on the feeling of misogyny and was a series of clichés the novel could have done without.

Colquhoun's writing is witty, although at points it becomes a little false sounding. For the most part his wit was bang on, shining a bright light on some of the darker aspects of society. However, there was also a slight sense that in places he was trying too hard to make his writing unusual and interesting and it jarred. I tend to think that good writing should go almost unnoticed, and should not get in the way of a story but enhance it, and there were moments where the writing didn't do this.

Like Colquhoun's previous novel, I felt that Five Deadly Words ended abruptly. There was a definite page-turning climax to the novel, Colquhoun suddenly takes it up a notch, showing off his story telling skills, and the story got exciting with a lot of different ideas coming together. And then it suddenly stopped and there was no come down, no summing up. It was a bit like getting to the very top of a rollercoaster and then being told the ride was over.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you like Keith Colquhoun's witty style then you should try his previous novel, Beyond Reason, where the author turns his dry humour on to the subject of religion.

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