Research by Philip Kerr

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Research by Philip Kerr

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Samantha Lyon
Reviewed by Samantha Lyon
Summary: There are no heroes to be found in Research. It's a story of rivalry, greed, ego and injustice. The story is ever so slightly long-winded and slow-paced with characters that aren't entirely likeable. Yet, despite this, this book manages to retain the reader’s attention and keep them hooked until the very last page - it's beautifully written with clever and witty dialogue.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 373 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1782065777

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This book is told from the perspectives of two characters; John and Don. This was an effective move on Kerr’s part, as it certainly breaks up the prose and helps to retain the reader’s interest.

John Houston is a multimillionaire with a beautiful wife, a number of mistresses, countless extravagances and an apartment in Monaco, for tax reasons. He made his fortune by creating a formula for a series of best-selling novels designed specifically to appeal to the average man on the street. John has a team of four ghost-writers to do all the writing, meaning that he can produce an average of six bestsellers per year. John calls his group of ghost-writers his atelier, his ‘workshop’, perfectly reflecting his views of them.

Don Irvine is John’s longest serving ghost-writer and is, in his own estimation, horribly underpaid. When John’s wife is found murdered in their Monaco apartment, John goes missing and subsequently becomes the primary suspect. One of the most compelling aspects of the book is the relationship between John and Don, who are very different characters.

John is a character with many flaws that, despite yourself, you may warm to. He's a womaniser, myopically obsessed with fortune and is generally oblivious to the feelings of those around him. He is ignorant of how selfish and cruel his behaviour can be. Despite this, there is a subtle and resonating gentleness to John’s character. He cries unashamedly when someone else is hurt or killed and he is extremely grateful and loyal to those who offer him help or friendship. Most of his character flaws can be linked to the fact that he is, essentially, an overgrown child who is driven entirely by his Id. Any harm caused is merely a side effect of this drive rather than an intention to hurt. When a character is so obviously childlike, it is easy to make allowances for their terrible behaviour.

Don, on the other hand, is not a character that any reader is likely to take to or appreciate. The first chapter is told from his perspective and the reader instantly gets an insight into his dispassionate personality. Kerr makes it hard for you to relate to this character, may have wanted us to feel no empathy for a character that doesn’t appear to feel empathy himself. You do, however, grow to respect him for his obvious intellect and his resourcefulness.

A real selling point for this book is that the reader gets a glimpse into the mind of an author; a truly frightening place. The reader can feel Don’s frustration at not being able to write and publish a successful novel of his own, despite the fact that he has written a number of bestsellers for John. Don has a way with words but is not a 'plotter' and so finds it difficult to scrape together a sellable story. As the principle characters are writers, the book is cram packed with obscure literary references and quotations, which could become tiresome and frustrating. Despite how annoying it might seem, the incessant quoting has a purpose. Kerr uses it to demonstrate the innate differences between these educated, well-read men and the fodder that they produce. Both of the main characters openly admit that the material they write is produced for readers who don't actually enjoy reading. For this reason, their books avoid words that are more than two syllables long and contain plots that are extremely simplistic. The writers, however, are different, as Kerr demonstrates well. They are lovers of good books and complex characters.

The novel in itself is well-written, as you might expect. Kerr strings words together beautifully and he certainly knows how to paint a scene. He's also similar to John’s character in the sense that he obviously knows how to construct and thoroughly research an intriguing plot. Kerr demonstrates a talent for making you laugh, even at moments when you know you probably shouldn’t.

The ending of this book will not be to everyone’s taste. It comes across as somewhat abrupt and may leave you unsatisfied. However, the book is certainly thought-provoking, compelling and certainly worth a trip to the bookshop.

For another book written by a well-known thriller writer, incorporating the military aspects that Don describes in Research, you should try The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst. If you are looking for a good, suspenseful murder mystery, you could try The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver.

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