King Death by Toby Litt

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King Death by Toby Litt

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This is a crime story with a difference as the amateur investigators do what needs to be done in their own unique way. A confident, Japanese young woman and her ex, sometime London musician, collide in their individual sleuthing journeys.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141039725

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Skelton, that's the musician, adores his girlfriend. She's certainly exotic with ... her hair ... like black oil flowing over a stone. However, they are only a heartbeat away from breaking up when it happens. What looks like some internal part of the body, animal or even human is hurled from a London train. The pair just happen to be travelling on that very train and they also just happen to witness this unsavoury action.

Kumiko immediately decides that the correct thing to do is to investigate further. Here Litt give us a lovely character profile of Kumiko. Her spoken English is perfect; no slang words or slurring at all. She's very precise, forthright and honest. I took to her immediately. She's a friend most of us would like. I had a mental picture in my head, a sort of younger Yoko Ono. Skelton comes over as the exact opposite (well, they do say opposites attract). He's casual, kinda slouchy, easy-come-easy-go. But because of these differences, it makes for interesting reading and also interesting dialogue between them and others.

Kumiko has some engaging comments and behaviour traits. For example, she makes a bee-line for her nearest cinema as ... Cinemas are, for me, good places to concentrate. Her sense of Japanese aesthetics comes to the fore when she describes Guy's Hospital (around which the story is centred) as ... like the watchtower of a prison or a gulag. She doesn't hold back, does she? And I liked that about her. You know where you stand with people with Kumiko.

Litt also shows his playful side in this novel. Some of the names are very tongue-in-cheek: Dr Speed, Mr Fine, Simon Aragon (and yes, he is arrogant) and even our male sleuth doesn't get off Scot-free, as he's called Skeleton by mistake, several times. There's a great line spoken by one of Kumiko's flat-mates which screams middle-class I don't think anyone in her family's ever spoken to the police - except to ask directions. Brilliant.

Even although the unsavoury elements of the plot unfold, there's plenty of fresh, breezy, creative lines from Litt. They lift the whole story out of the ordinary. Lines which will probably be remembered by many, after the last page has been read. There's a lovely piece about the pros and cons of living north and south of the River Thames. And there's plenty of city centre meeting places to suit the urbanites amongst us. Another memorable descriptive sentence describes the bandstand in Regent's Park as ... like a maharajah's hat on the legs of a spider with rigor mortis. Also the deep depths of the bowels of Guy's is where plenty of nasty goings-on happen. Atmospheric.

Litt gives the reader quite a few red herrings. It's also a novel in two halves: Kumiko's and Skelton's They each get to tell their own story in the first person. And for two opposites, it's amazing how in tune they are. Having said that, one is smarter than the other. I won't spoil it by saying which one though. This is a crime novel written from a refreshing angle. Very enjoyable.

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

If this book appeals then try Saturday by Ian McEwan.

Buy King Death by Toby Litt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy King Death by Toby Litt at

Buy King Death by Toby Litt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy King Death by Toby Litt at


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