Dying Words by Shaun Hutson
|Dying Words by Shaun Hutson|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Part horror and part police procedural with some blunt barbs at the publishing world this is not one of Hutson's best novels.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 368||Date: 2 Aug 2007|
I had better take great care over what I say about this book. Not just because a lot of it concerns the power of words, but one of the main characters is a horror writer, who may or may not have a vicious streak, but who definitely dislikes critics. John Paxton's a British horror writer with a great fanbase (and a way with the ladies), a large back catalogue, and a recent publication called Unmarked Graves.
I had only just come from reviewing Shaun Hutson's latest hardback, Unmarked Graves.
However I shall be very rash and say that John Paxton's presence in this book is not a great addition. We get a lot of personal touches from Hutson, as he gives characters and institutions Paxton knows the very names Hutson continually lists in his thanks lists. And that's before a lot of barbed comments about the publishing industry - from the press junket to critics and so on. Most of those barbs are blunt.
More interesting is Megan Hunter, the authoress who is set to be a hit with her new biography of an Italian who was mentor to Dante in more ways than you would think plausible. It's just a pity she merely occupies space on the page - as interesting as she might be we're not given one word about what she looks like.
Still, the main character is DI Birch (who I kept misreading as 'Bitch', unfortunately), and his sidekick Johnson. We meet them at the beginning of the book engaged in a rash and unrealistic central London car chase, which ends with one of Hutson's regularly blunt climaxes. Only then can we see how slim the Birch character actually is, too - the usual detective, hardened to the worst of cases, but accused of his last wife of only having time for his job, so he makes sure he doesn't have a feminine side to bring his work home to. It's another case of filling the gaps as regards looks.
Again, I can't divulge how all three elements twist and turn themselves into what becomes a locked-room mystery, where perfectly secure buildings are entered, and an assailant leaves a bloody murder without no way of escape.
For that reason I was going to direct my Bookbag colleagues to classify this book as a thriller, but luckily enough the horror concept does turn up for the last third and full action is resumed.
But I'm not sure if concept is a better word - conceit, perhaps. Hutson certainly gives us something new in the world of horror, but whether that is better, I'm not sure. The whole book is given an interesting bookish, literary world, which appeals, but should do so more than it does.
I don't think the thriller side of the book offers any great shocks, either. In fact a lot of the police procedural goes on at the same pace, plodding through questioning and investigation, with only the grisly deaths to interrupt it.
And as for the self-referential, slightly post-modern horror writer, well... One of the horror writers involved in this book says he would happily trim a book where a good editor tells him to. It's only a pity the other one hasn't. Much of the Paxton elements are just too woolly, and although the book reads pacily enough - it's a very quickly-read 360pp - there's some redundancy. And so, despite what I opened this review with, I'm not scared.
Which, given this is a horror book, is a damning thing to say.
I think that thriller fans who chance upon this book will enjoy the police procedural to some extent, if they can get over the gory death scenes, but I'm sure they will scoff at the horror concept. Horror fans may well snap this up just as quickly as they would any Hutson, but they should be prepared for the hairs on the back of their necks to stay exactly as they are.
There is nothing criminally bad about this horror, but there is nothing much above the average. The publishing and literary milieu of it deserved a better treatment.
If, however, it will help divert the kind of trouble critics get into in this book, I would like to thank the publishers for sending a copy for the Bookbag to sample, and say that they're all very generous, witty and intelligent beauties to a man and woman.
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