The Place That Didn't Exist by Mark Watson

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The Place That Didn't Exist by Mark Watson

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Category: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A commercial shoot in Dubai brings unexpected consequences, but the story is minimally told with too much backdrop, not enough action and no emotion whatsoever. It's hard to even tell whether this is intended to be a dark tale or a humourous one. The two can be mixed, but neither surfaces strongly enough to make this a satisfying read on any level.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 400 Date: July 2016
Publisher: Picador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781447243359

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Sometimes a book just leaves you wondering what it was trying to be. I'm afraid Watson's sixth novel is one of those. I can't compare it to his previous work because I've not been there. Or if I have I have forgotten all about it. I will quickly forget this one too.

There's a pointless prologue about a riddle – which got a further mention but intrinsically irrelevant to the plot – but which turned out to be the one thing I will remember from this book. Not least because I failed to work it out, and had to go look up the answer.

Then we meet a bunch of people who have met up in Dubai to make an advert for a charity. Tim Callaghan, our narrator, is the "junior creative" who's only been allowed along because the boss had something more interesting to do. The campaign was his idea. To be honest, I can't see why he (or indeed his boss) would need to be there. I guess it's just a traditional perk of the job. There's a temperamental director who seems to think he's shooting the second coming, an over-protected star, who's actually quite a decent bloke when you get through his defensive agent, and the producer who is just a tiny bit weird. Not unnaturally so. And of course, because this is Dubai, there is "the Fixer".

I didn't like the portrayal of the Fixer and I'm not sure why. I know these people exist – not just in Arab countries but throughout the world: anywhere where people with enough money to pay, will pay for whatever it is they want to be rustled up quickly, no questions asked. They are the people who know everyone, speak the languages and have ways of getting what's needed. Mostly through straight-forward commerce, occasionally one suspects by other means. This particular 'local liaison' was deliberately painted as being, to use an old-fashioned word, shadey. Perhaps the fact that I'm baulking at it, without really establishing why, just suggests that it was clumsily done.

So. What happens? Not much for a great deal of the book. They turn up to a posh hotel. Posh hotel staff do what posh hotel staff do. It's exaggerated – possibly for comic effect, I found it hard to tell. Mostly it's what I've experienced on the rare occasions I've been in upmarket hotels where the staff live in a different world to the clientele. It's not nice, it's not always dignified, but it's a job – and usually the money is better (sadly) than they'd be earning in more satisfying and necessary professions.

Nothing wrong with the depiction – just a bit unsubtle for background, and not twisted enough for humour.

Eventually, somebody dies.

Then there's an accident on set which could have killed somebody else.

Normally, there'd be police investigation at this point… it's classic 'closed-room murder mystery time'. Only, well, no, not really.

I did read the book quite quickly. The pages did get turned. Mainly because I couldn't believe that something wasn't just about to happen. It never did.

The penultimate chapter is entitled "A Story" – and in thirty pages tells you why what happened did so, in very much a "I did this, and then this happened, and then…"

In a more expertly written book, some of that would have been in the prologue and the rest the reader could have worked out. The reader will have worked out exactly what happened, and most of the why, in any event.

Ultimately I was left completely confused as to what the book was intended to be. Taking the whole: the back-stories of the characters and the events in Dubai – and the stuff that should have happened next: there is potential for two things. It could have been a [[Category:Ben Elton|Ben Elton[[ / Tom Sharpe style farce, which if well-done might have been a joy to read. Or it could have been a really dark mystery set among the glitter, and shining a beam on the two worlds, one of which most tourists don't get to witness. It failed to be either, and ended up as a reasonably well-written "what I did on my holidays" report.

Buy The Place That Didn't Exist by Mark Watson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Place That Didn't Exist by Mark Watson at

Buy The Place That Didn't Exist by Mark Watson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Place That Didn't Exist by Mark Watson at


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